“All’s fair in love and war”—but these two couples are taking that too far. They can’t stop loving, and can’t stop bickering. Will they ever learn how to be content? Watching their journey of self-discovery may make you chuckle.
Bernie (Kevin Hart, the hardest working man in show business) and Danny (Michael Ealy) work at a restaurant supply company in downtown L.A. Bernie is dating the very turbulent Joan (Regina Hall, “The Best Man Holiday”). One night in a bar, Bernie and Joan coax Danny into meeting Debbie (Joy Bryant, “Antwone Fisher,” TV series “Parenthood”), a very successful executive. Initially, the four hit it off, kind of like Lucy, Desi, Fred and Ethel. But the dynamics of their loving relationships and friendships take a roller coaster ride that leaves them either singing each other’s praises or going for each other’s throats.
If the setup and storyline feel unoriginal, you’re on to something. The unimaginative script by screenwriter Leslye Headland (TV’s “Terriers” and the movie “Bachelorette”) is drafting off the very distant fumes of a 1986 movie of the same name directed by Ed Zwick, which starred Rob Lowe, Demi Moore and James Belushi. In fact, the original film’s screenwriter, Tim Kazurinsky (“Saturday Night Live”) receives a co-writing credit on this new version. Both films are screen adaptations of the play, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet. So what’s the big difference? On this go-round, producer William Packer, who is riding high on the success of urban-themed movies like “Stomp the Yard,” “Think Like a Man” and the very recent “Ride Along,” has left his mark on this “hipper” version.
Bernie and Joan’s tempestuous relationship proves too fiery and they break up. Afterward, when they meet, they verbally abuse each other, like hopeless lovers who can’t let go. Says Joan of Bernie’s new girlfriend, “If the b— was any dumber I’d have to water her!” Debbie moves in with Danny, and for a hot minute they are the ideal couple. But looks are deceiving, and love lives can be very complicated. Cue Cupid and his bow and arrows.
Director Steve Pink honed his skills, or lack thereof, directing TV sitcoms (“Children’s Hospital,” “New Girl”). He does have one wide-release feature film under his belt, but the over-the-top clunker “Hot Tub Time Machine” is nothing to brag about. He puts the camera in the right place, lets his cast go at it, but doesn’t display much more talent than that. Films aren’t sitcoms; they are far more expansive and offer perfect opportunities to smoothly connect the dots. Yet, his clumsy scenes lack flow or imagination. For example, at one point, Danny barges in on Bernie and Joan while they are having sex. She’s on top, wearing a chicken mask, and clucking like she is laying an egg. It is strained humor, with a smidgen of potential, and his direction doesn’t take it anywhere.
Watching this film would be painful if it weren’t for the funny dialogue and the cast. The one-liners come fast and furious. At a party, Joan continues her rant on Bernie’s new girlfriend, dismissing her existence: “You are making a brief cameo in a very tragic porno.” Hall’s frenzied performance almost saves the day—she is hysterical. Bryant has the right blend of maturity and sophistication. Ealy, as the insecure middle-class boyfriend afraid to be a part of his lover’s uppity world, oozes leading man charm.
Yes, we all know Kevin Hart is so damn funny he could milk a laugh out of a gravestone. The question isn’t whether he can make you chuckle—he can, as in the Halloween party scene where he is dressed up as a Chippendale dancer. The real question is whether he is ruining his brand by being in so many movies. This is the third film in which he appeared to be released in the last 60 days (“Grudge Match,” “Ride Along”). Will his fans clamor for more or tire of his shtick? That’s an uncertainty his manager, agent and publicist should ponder behind closed doors. He’ll either remain that silly friend you can’t wait to see again, or become that too-frequent houseguest that turns you off. Pundits may start to yawn, but it’s a good bet his fans will hitch a ride on his comedy train for some time to come.
The soundtrack features songs by John Legend and Bruno Mars, but none really enhance the proceedings. Ditto Marcus Miller’s musical score. The production design, (John Gary Steele), costumes (Anne Foley) and cinematography (Michael Barrett) are decent, nothing more.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, romantic comedies will vie for audiences in need of a love tap. Will “About Last Night” do the trick? Between the funny, graphic-language banter and animated performances there is a sweetness about relationships present that is ultimately touching, even if the storyline and direction leave much to be desired.