With the release of the new remake “About Last Night,” a four-decade transformation is complete. What began as David Mamet’s 1974 play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” — a lacerating downer about the impossibility of modern relationships — and was bowdlerized into the edgy but recognizably mainstream Brat Pack semi-classic “About Last Night. . .” (1986) has now become completely and unapologetically generic.
Aside from the non-novelty of its African-American cast, “About Last Night” is no different than the thousands of romantic comedies churned out since the invention of cinema about couples who meet, mate, break up, and make up. Despite a frisky soundtrack that starts off with James Brown’s “Sex Machine” — trust me, it’s downhill from there — this is the visual equivalent of Muzak. You don’t have to see it to have seen it.
But it’s glossy and the cast is attractive, and Kevin Hart is bumptiously funny as the hero’s oversexed best friend. If you watch this with a crowd, you’ll be rewarded with a few laughs, even as your stomach is grumbling from the lack of nutrition. Eventually, though, the sheer blandness of it all wears you down.
Mamet’s play was about a callow but nice enough guy who falls in love with an earnest young woman after a one-night stand; they try to make a go of it but are brought down by fear of commitment and the lethal cynicism of their best friends. It was a bleak, profanely funny early essay in Mamet-speak. The 1986 movie gave us blow-dried Rob Lowe and Demi Moore as the leads — Which was prettier? Quick, decide! — and James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins, both terrific, as their frenemies. It was still fairly honest and sexually blunt as commercial movies go, even if Mamet’s unhappy ending was predictably scrapped.
Set in downtown Los Angeles rather than Chicago, the new “About Last Night” takes advantage of Hart’s motormouth and a post-Judd Apatow specificity in matters sexual to crank up the verbal raunch. When Bernie (Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall) get down to business in the early scenes, the details are nearly clinical. On their second date, Bernie brings along his best pal, Danny (Michael Ealy), and Joan her roommate, Debbie (Joy Bryant), both of whom are described by their friends as “boring.” A hundred minutes later, you’re forced to agree.
Ealy has his talent, his blue-eyed charm, and a body that is shirtless as much as possible. Bryant seems . . . nice. For all the R-rated booty-talk, the entire movie is . . . nice. Danny and Debbie move in together, cocoon, doubt, bicker, and split, and what honesty there remains about the stress-fractures of early coupledom is swamped by slick, rote storytelling that never draws blood.
You settle for noticing the anomalies in Steve Pink’s direction, like the seasonal chapter headings (“About Winter,” “About Spring”) that make no sense in a town where the weather never changes. Like the adorable “puppy” — I think it’s a Havanese — that several scenes later has “grown” into a completely different breed. (Just add water, I guess.) Like the montages that play as commercials for an unspecified feminine hygiene product.
“About Last Night” is coming out on Valentine’s Day, and I suppose some guys will think they’re doing their romantic duty by taking their wives or girlfriends to see it. But, really, a dozen fake roses and a card from CVS would be more personal.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.