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Sparring couple gives spark to '80s remake

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Kevin Hart brings his A game to About Last Night. For those of us despairing that we'd ever see the little man at his antic best, after that lame second concert film and half-speed blockbuster Ride Along, that's good news.

Paired up with Regina Hall, who gives as good as she gets, in the raunchy romantic African-American remake of the 1986 Rob Lowe/Demi Moore romance based on David Mamet's play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Hart knocks back drinks and blasts out one-liner observations about the opposite sex and relationships.

And Hall, as Joan to Hart's Bernie, throws it right back at him and anybody else within range.

Their banter is so sharp and so well-timed that in many of their scenes, this ill-matched but perfectly suited couple are shouting funny stuff at the same time. And they're so good they do what other versions of this once-cutting-edge piece only flirted with. They overwhelm the romantic leads.

That would be the "serious" couple, played by Rob and Demi back in the day, here performed with a minimum of pathos and comic pop by Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant. Theirs is the relationship we track in this story, one so predictable and bland that the movie is waiting on Hart to show up again and Hall to march into the scene and take him down.

Danny (Ealy) meets Debbie (Bryant) in the middle of a drunken, out-of-control outing with Bernie and Joan. Over the months, as the louder couple feud, break up and drunkenly hook back up, Debbie and Danny get close, closer then domestic.

The boys and girls debrief each other in assorted L.A. bars (sexual perversity in Los Angeles, this time), where it's always About Last Night -- explicit, blow-by-blow accounts of seductions, pickups and the wrong moves each thinks the other is making. One commits, the other "knows when to get out."

One puts on "relationship weight," the other is looking to adopt a dog with her man.

Breakups are abrupt and half-hearted in Leslye Headland's updated script, though girl-bonding over Nutella straight out of the jar is funny. Career stumbles and taking a stand on principle over a bar owner's beer bill (the guys are in restaurant supply) seem flimsy in the current economy.

Which is a problem the whole film -- funny as it sometimes is -- struggles with. How can you break new ground on "rules" and relationship "tells" after Friends and Seinfeld and Rules of Engagement and scores of films and TV shows have covered and re-covered that ground in the ensuing decade?

The sex scenes are less romantic and generally played more for laughs. And the conclusions are obvious shortly after the opening credits.

But what keeps us around until the closing credits, where Hart and Hall bust each other up, is the electricity between those two. They're the Wimbledon finals of sexy, sassy, drunken comic banter -- two pros, evenly matched enough to put on a great show, even if they make us forget about the rest of the movie around them as they do.

-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2014 D5

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