Published Feb 13, 2014Answering the question of how many times David Mamet's brutally honest play about relationships, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, can be run through the Hollywood machine before finally becoming a fairly generic romantic comedy, About Last Night emerges as the Muzak variation on a familiar tune. It hits a lot of the same notes as the perceptive, if not exactly faithful, 1986 adaptation starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, and retains some of its profane spirit, but the play's rougher edges have been sanded down even more and a cute dog has now been added to the mix.
It's encouraging to hear in the first scene, as friends and sales co-workers Danny (Michael Ealy) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) discuss their sexual conquests in graphic detail, that Mamet's vulgar language has at least not been sanitized to earn a more marketable PG rating. Even their respective love interests, Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Joan (Regina Hall), speak in a refreshingly filthy manner that is often missing from women in film.
As a one-night stand between Debbie and Danny gradually becomes something more, the sexual chemistry created by Bernie and Joan quickly flames out into a mutual and vocal hatred of each other. The latter's tumultuous coupling is the film's most inspired departure from the '86 film. Some of the funniest scenes involve Hart and Hall going back and forth at each other, attacking and countering with verbal jabs like a couple of highly skilled prizefighters.
As the film cycles through the seasons of a year in all of their lives and Debbie moves in with Danny, commitments like buying a pooch begin to create tension by infringing on Danny's freedom to go out and drink with the single Bernie. In condensing a year's worth of exhilaration and frustrations into the roughly 90 minute running time, there are a few awkwardly edited montages (that still aren't as laughable as the prior ones of Lowe and Moore set to bad '80s music) and some leaps in characters' motivations that are rather jarring.
Though the actors are all perfectly capable and play to their strengths, with Bryant and Ealy making for an attractive and appealing heart of the film, it's hard to ignore how perfunctory and predictable many of the twists and turns of the story threads eventually become. Whether it's Paula Patton showing up as an ex with an eye on reconciliation or a half-baked subplot with Christopher McDonald as the owner of a bar who goes way back with Danny, there is little weight to any of the complications.
Written by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) and directed by frequent John Cusack collaborator Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine), this is an admirable but ultimately middling remake that neither bastardizes the source material nor distinguishes itself enough from it enough to really merit much fanfare.