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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 14 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 07
Hart's on fire in latest journey into Night
Arts & Entertainment
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Hart's on fire in latest journey into Night

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

It's not a huge secret to say I'm a little over Kevin Hart. I hated Ride Along. I thought he was fine in Grudge Match if not doing anything remotely unexpected (or memorable). His supporting turn in The Five-Year Engagement didn't do anything for me one way or the other. As for his breakout hit Think Like a Man, I thought so highly of that 2012 smash I never even bothered writing a full review; it had that big of an effect on me.

So when I say he's the driving force making this remake of the 1986 sort-of favorite About Last Night not just pretty good, but awfully close to essential, you know I'm not just spinning my wheels talking nonsense. Without a doubt, this is the best role he's had in his still blossoming career, and to say he makes the most of it is a massive understatement. Flirty, uninhibited, raw and unguarded, there is a freewheeling forcefulness to his ribald verbal gymnastics that is both spontaneous and funny, his interactions with equally magnetic co-star Regina Hall achieving a naturalistic authenticity that's continually surprising.

The same cannot be said for the movie as a whole. Much like the previous film (which starred Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Elizabeth Perkins and James Belushi), as well as the 1974 David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago on which both pictures are based, things once again revolve around Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant), two sexy singles slowly waltzing around long-term romance. Their story is straightforward, never doing a lot more than what is expected and required. Much like Lowe and Moore, Ealy and Bryant are fine in their roles; unlike them they fail to transcend them.

And there's the rub. The secondary story revolving around Bernie (Hart), Danny's best friend and co-worker, and his new girlfriend Joan (Hall) is far more interesting. More, it's light years more entertaining, the pair engaging in what they thought was a one night stand seeing it blossom into potentially something substantially more. They're intellectual and sexual equals, each of them responding to the other with energetic enthusiasm that's rapturous and compelling. Their look at dating dos and don'ts is massive amounts of fun. More, it's sexy as all get out, so suffice to say whenever they're not center stage the film can't help but slow to a crawl.

Still, Leslye Headland's (Bachelorette) script, cribbing freely from both Mamet's play as well as the previous film version by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue, is chockfull of choice bits and winning one-liners. More than that, she also crafts situations and moments that are fully realized and believable, and even if the central duo is given a little bit less to work with that doesn't make them any less genuine. She takes the ideas present in both the play and the prior version and makes them her own, transporting them into the here and now with precision. It's a remarkably strong screenplay, an outstanding adaptation, and while I freely admit certain parts aren't actualized as well as they might have been I can't help but feel like any fault for that doesn't fall upon the script itself.

Steve Pink's direction is fine, about on par with his handling of Hot Tub Time Machine, but he does have trouble maintaining a balance between the male characters and the female ones, the former getting greater emphasis than the latter even though the focus should have been more or less equal. His affinity for the guys and their plight is fairly clear throughout, and as strong as the women are, especially, as already mentioned, Hall, they're still given a decided shorter shrift than their co-stars.

None of that matters when Hart is on the screen. The man is on fire, and while his performance isn't entirely removed from his previous ones, that doesn't keep me from thinking there's more to the comedian and actor than up to now I let myself believe. In almost every way that matters this new About Last Night is superior to the 1986 version, and while not every facet of it is fresh or revealing, that doesn't make it as a whole feel any less so. It's a good movie, easily 2014's first bona fide surprise, even more so for the fact it makes me like an actor I heretofore couldn't have thought less about.

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