This week sees the release of three movies based on films from the 1980s, and believe it or not, it’s possible that the best of the bunch stars Kevin Hart. Of course, this raises the question: why so many remakes? Movies should only be remade if there’s room for improvement, and although that was arguably the case with RoboCop, Jose Padilha’s reboot/reimagining doesn’t really live up to its full potential. On the other hand, Edward Zwick’s 1986 romantic drama About Last Night is so painfully mediocre that it’s the perfect film to be remade, and count me among the many to be surprised at just how good the remake turned out to be.
Both movies are based on the David Mamet stage play, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” and both follow the same basic story beats, opening at a bar (this time in Los Angeles) where the loutish Bernie (Hart) recounts the events of his most recent sexual conquest to best friend and co-worker Danny (Michael Ealy). The two guys are awaiting the arrival of Joan (Regina Hall), who’s essentially Bernie’s female equivalent, and her roommate Debbie (Joy Bryant) for a double date of sorts at their favorite hangout spot. It’s a desperate attempt by Bernie and Joan at setting up their down-in-the-dumps friends with one another, and though neither Danny nor Debbie are looking for love at the moment, they immediately hit it off.
The night takes them from the bar to the bedroom, and before long, their relationship kicks into overdrive, constantly texting back and forth, playing hooky from work and ignoring their friends to spend every waking minute together. It’s the ill-fated honeymoon period, and by the time Danny asks Debbie to move in with him, they’ve already had their first big fight. But that’s just the beginning of the story, as the pair is then forced to deal with the many ups and downs of dating to decide if they’re truly meant for one another.
Having never seen or read the Mamet play on which the films are based, it’s hard to judge just how much of his work translates to the screen, but there’s a blunt honesty to the way that relationships are treated in both movies that is unequivocally Mamet-esque. Zwick’s version, however, is a much more somber affair, with characters that aren’t particularly likeable and don’t even seem that happy when they’re frolicking through the cheesy, 80’s-styled montages that are plastered throughout the film. Steve Pink’s update (which was scripted by Bachelorette writer/director Leslye Headland) is lighter and much funnier, balancing the dramatic moments with some genuine laughs.
One of the biggest changes to the 2014 version is that Bernie and Joan are also romantically involved, and while it reeks of the kind of sitcom convention where everyone is dating everyone, it adds an interesting dynamic to the story, especially when they’re on the rocks. That sexual tension wasn’t present in the original, but it makes both characters a lot more interesting as a result. Granted, Hart and Hall are mainly there to serve as comic relief, and although the actors’ go-for-broke approach to the material occasionally makes them look like overgrown children, they’re also responsible for some of the biggest laughs. Hart, in particular, is the star of the movie. Though he’s gotten dangerously close to overexposure these last few months and has a tendency to be Chris Tucker-levels of annoying at times, his performance here shows what he’s capable of in smaller doses.
Ealy and Bryant get the less exciting roles, but they do enough to make you actually care about what happens to them, unlike Rob Lowe and Demi Moore’s miserable sourpusses from the original. In fact, it’s amazing how much better this version is compared to its predecessor, because that one had a stronger cast, even if the rather straightforward story is still dragged out longer than needed.
Pink’s About Last Night is typical rom-com fare, but it’s a more enjoyable adaptation of the source material that’s elevated by its smart direction, solid cast, and willingness to make sex and dating every bit as funny, charming, and sincere as it is in real life. It probably won’t be remembered in a few months’ time, but you could do a lot worse for Valentine’s Day.
The Upside: The chemistry between Michael Ealy and Kevin Hart is fantastic; rom-com characters that are fully developed; the rare remake that’s better than its predecessor
The Downside: The still terrible title; the bloated runtime; Paula Patton’s laughably bad cameo
On the Side: The original movie gets a brief shout out in a scene where Danny and Debbie are shown watching it on TV at home.