by Philip Price
Kevin Hart has officially become everything the studios behind him want him to be. He is a bankable star that can show up in the advertising for a film and almost guarantee a certain amount of audience because they know if Hart is present in the film, it will likely be a good enough time for them to dedicate part of a weekend night to. The good part of this line of thinking is that it is true. Hart, who has been around for years and serving as comic relief in any number of comedies finally was allowed his film breakout when his sense of stand-up was brought to his supporting character in “Think Like A Man.” Since, the guy has been pretty much unstoppable. Just look at the last few months alone: he single-handedly saved December's “Grudge Match” from being unwatchable and last month had one of the biggest January debuts when he teamed up with Ice Cube for the generic, but entertaining “Ride Along,” which continues to put up strong numbers at the box office almost a month later. All of this on top of the success he found last summer with the theatrical release of his stand-up special, “Let Me Explain,” has led to this Valentine's Day weekend release that will seemingly do nothing more than to prove how much Hart is actually worth as he goes up against a good amount of competition, but if his reputation precedes him and the quality of the film is good enough to generate positive buzz he will be poised to add that much more weight to his name. The good news is that “About Last Night” is not the exercise in safe movie-making “Ride Along” is and though this won't be as big a hit, it is a better film and one that isn't afraid to let its actors loose on the material and approach it in the most honest way possible. While this is still a remake of the 1986 flick starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore (which I have not seen) it seems to have modernized the relationship dynamics well enough while utilizing both Hart and Regina Hall in a way that counteracts the typical beats of a PG-13 romantic comedy while still fulfilling those requirements through the relationship explored by Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant's characters. As with almost every rom-com we know where things are heading and so it is really the journey that matters and for the most part, “About Last Night” delivers a fun, diverting and to a certain extent even an enlightening experience.
Going through the seasons of the year and chronicling the different stages of introduction, the honeymoon and then further into the stagnant phase every couple experiences at one point or another we see the evolution not only of Ealy's Danny and Bryant's Debbie in their relationship, but in themselves which is a credit as much to the performances of the two actors as it is to director Steve Pink who really conveys the story in a way where we become entangled in the relationship developing on screen, where we are legitimately invested in where these people take these emotions and impulsion's and would be willing to accept whatever it is they decide to do because we do in fact, trust them. Trust is a tough thing to get when we're talking about the genre in which this film operates, but Pink scores it early on with the credible and funny cast while using stylistic choices that ensure the pressure of this story succeeding doesn't solely lie on that of the performers and their chemistry. Bernie (Hart) is best friends and works with Danny and so it is natural that Danny joins Bernie as he follows up what was no doubt initially assumed to be nothing more than a one night stand with a second meeting and kind-of double date. Bernie rocked Joan's (Hall) world upon their first night of passion and vice versa resulting in the animalistic nature they display for one another on this second meeting while Danny and Debbie, Joan's roommate who is drug along despite her distaste for the night life scene, are left to create conversation of their own which eventually results in him walking her to the door which results in conversation which results in fascination that leads to an unexpected night of passion for them as well, one that they too expected to be nothing more than a one night stand. Using the passing of those seasons helps to show both the hesitation and the eagerness with which Danny and Debbie approach one another ultimately culminating in the acceptance on both of their parts that they want to go for a real relationship, a home building, heading toward marriage relationship which is a big step for both considering Debbie's issues with finding genuine feeling for someone in her busy professional life and Danny's scorned look at love after a split with his previous, dominating girlfriend Alison (Paula Patton). The conflict comes when trouble begins to invade paradise.
The good news, as stated in the opening paragraph, is that the film doesn't easily fall back on the genre archetypes it very easily could have. There are moments throughout where I expected certain things to happen simply because that is what usually happens under these circumstances in these movies (having not seen the original may have helped in this aspect) and this version instead went about it in the more logical, sincere fashion that not only makes us like the movie more, but the characters as well. Not to give too much away, but a prime example of this is Patton's character which we can see coming from a mile away, that is a given. As the early set-up ex of Danny we know she will not only factor into the way Danny believes relationships must be orchestrated, but that she will enter back into the picture at some point to pose a threat to the new, happier Danny. This moment comes, as expected, during the worst of times. As Debbie is away for business and their relationship isn't at its best Alison shows back up to make everything better for Danny and offers him everything in her attitude that he could have possibly wanted from her during their relationship. He is a good, strong guy and he knows to look past the immediate future and pleasures he might be rewarded with for what will no doubt be the more fulfilling and happier long-term future and so if you've come to know Ealy's character like you should you know how this situation will turn out. What Leslye Headland's re-worked script does best though is that it doesn't turn Danny trying to hide the fact he saw Alison from Debbie into a plotline. Instead, it is approached head on and cleared up so that even if the relationship has lost some of its immediate luster, there is still that level of honesty between the two that has always made them appealing. We follow these two further through the ups and downs and for the most part they subvert the corniness of how rom-coms usually depict relationships and allow what are unavoidably corny moments to simply become genuine. On the other side of things and what keeps the strong balance between sweet and sappy and the more vulgar, honest moments is the electric chemistry between Hall and Hart. Their Joan and Bernie are a couple doomed to succeed in our immediate introduction yet as much as we become involved in the plight of Danny and Deb, we better recognize what is Bernie and Joan.
“About Last Night” will function fully as a romantic comedy for the older, more seasoned set on Valentine's Day that don't care to deal with the PG-13 crowds that will flock to “Endless Love” or “Winter's Tale” for their date night. The film knows that audience and is speaking directly to them rather than the fictionalized, fantasized version of love and commitment that will fill the heads of those early daters wandering into the alternative fare. And while much of the credit can be chocked up to Pink's direction and Headland's writing that combine to overcome the clichés of the now disregarded genre it is the appeal of the principle cast that ultimately convince us this was worth investing our time in whether or not we've already learned the lessons the film is covering or not. Hart steals nearly every scene he is present in, not necessarily playing a different character than what we expect his real-life persona to be akin to, but still being able to rely on his quick wit and his breakneck delivery along with his stature and inherent physical comedy that comes along with it to ensure that we don't stop smiling. Plus, the guy continues to prove he can win almost anyone over and does so again here as he makes a comparison between he and Danny's situation and that of Lando Calrissian and Han Solo's when Solo reached Cloud City. It's impossible to tell if this was an improvised moment, especially given the nature of Headland's comedy and likely affinities, but either way Hart delivers it so convincingly that it breathes an air of veritable and genuine uncontrolled laughter into an otherwise convenient moment. There are multiple moments like this, but many of them come when Hart is given Hall to play off of and not just to go off on either Ealy or Bryant. Hall has been a master of the physical comedy realm for quite some time paying her dues in the “Scary Movie” franchise while lately being able to act and be funny in roles such as this and in “The Best Man Holiday” or “Death at a Funeral.” The majority of the laughs obviously go to these two and while both Ealy and Bryant have some awkward, stagey moments we buy their chemistry overall and these elements combined with the films willingness to not always play by the rules forgives the sometimes plodding pacing, always clean and shiny wardrobes and atmospheres as well as the lack of attention to great supporting characters embodied by the likes of Christopher McDonald and Joe Lo Truglio.