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Ebiri on About Last Night: Laughter Is the Quickest Way to the Heart

The romantic, potty-mouthed new version of About Last Night has so little in common with 1986's earnest About Last Night, which in turn had so little in common with 1974's bitter Sexual Perversity in Chicago, the David Mamet play on which it was based, that one wonders why they bothered to keep the title. (The only reason that earlier film was called About Last Night was reportedly because some newspapers refused to carry ads for something with the words “Sexual Perversity” in it.) About Last Night: It’s a title that brings to mind one-night stands, dumb choices made in the heat of the moment, mornings full of regret. The film has all that, but it isn’t really about those things at all.

Like its predecessors, though, the new film does concern two men (best friends and co-workers) and two women (roommates and confidantes) and their romantic and not-so-romantic interactions, accompanied by their free-flowing observations about sex and love. This time out, the central couple is the impossibly attractive Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant), whose random hookup one night soon blossoms into a relationship. As with the earlier film, the two have to negotiate those pivotal moments in the life of a couple: when to have the "drawer conversation," when to say “I love you,” when to move in together. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a nonstop barrage of foulmouthed humor and one-size-fits-all insights. Directed by Hot Tub Time Machine’s Steve Pink and written by Bachelorette’s Leslye Headland, this new About Last Night doesn't have the caustic tension of Mamet's dialogue, but it does have a vulgar energy all its own. As an honest look into relationships, it's a bust. As a straight-up comedy, though, it’s hilarious.

Much of the credit for that goes to the other couple in the equation, Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall). The rollercoaster-like ups and downs of their relationship (not to mention the freaky, contortionist sex they have) provide both ironic counterpoints and comic relief to the more staid, deliberate pace of Danny and Debbie’s journey. Hart, of course, has been in the business of stealing movies away from his co-stars for some time now. But, the success of the largely inoffensive Ride Along notwithstanding, this is the first time that a film seems matched to his motormouth dexterity; America’s foremost fast-talker is right at home in this talkfest, whether he’s expounding on the “irregularity” of his member or arguing that less attractive men like him get laid more than dreamboats like Danny because they “try harder.” For her part, Bryant does a good job regularly cutting him down to size. (“You are making a brief cameo in a very sad porno,” she tells one of his dates after they break up, in what might be my new favorite insult ever.)

For all his talent, though, Hart’s shtick can sometimes suffer from an irritating sameness – you feel like his characters from film to film are interchangeable – so what’s particularly refreshing in About Last Night are those offhand moments when he seems to let his guard down, when he stops being so “on” and instead casually tosses a line or gesture. There aren’t many such instances, but they help round out the character, cutting through the rat-tat-tat perfection of his riffs.

Lovely and likable, Ealy and Bryant look like they belong together. (They’re definitely a step up from Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, the hopelessly stiff lovers of the earlier film.) A film like this often requires us to project ourselves to some degree onto the romantic leads. Most of us are nowhere near that good-looking, so such parts require a careful balancing act, one which Ealy has perfected over the years: He is just handsome and charming enough while still seeming thoroughly ordinary. Both he and Bryant nicely complement Hart and Hall’s broad antics. The mixture works. The resulting film won’t help you understand men or women any better, but it will make you laugh. And we all know that’s the quickest way to the heart.

Photo: Matt Kennedy/Screen Gems Productions, Inc.