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film review

Joan (Reginal Hall) gets frisky with Bernie (Kevin Hart) in About Last Night.Matt Kennedy

The second feel-good repurposing of David Mamet's early play Sexual Perversity in Chicago is at once rawer and prettier than its 1986 brat pack predecessor, starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, playing out in a dramatically gentrified downtown L.A. and aimed at an upscale urban black audience.

The changes may do little to please that tiny constituency of Mamet purists, but About Last Night isn't made for them anyway. A Valentine's Day marketing opportunity that combines frank sex talk, profane gender skirmishes, to-die-for property refurbishment and a reassuring faith in the power of love to kick the ass of anything in its way, Steve Pink's movie is selling fantasy dressed in wish-fulfillment makeover real estate TV drag. If you're in the market, you'll probably buy.

Last seen careening around Atlanta as Ice Cube's motor-mouthed rookie partner in the amiable buddy-cop comedy Ride Along, the vertically-challenged dynamo Kevin Hart here appears, to much funnier effect, as Bernie, the horndog commitment-phobe previously played by Jim Belushi. A co-worker (in a restaurant supply company) and best bro to the green-eyed, twice-shy rebound vet Danny (Michael Ealy), Bernie plays wingman to Danny's reluctant forward once the latter meets Debbie (Joy Bryant), a made executive-type with gun-shy issues of her own. Prompted by his own tempestuous dalliance with Debbie's tantrum-prone bestie Joan (Regina Hall), Bernie eggs the hopelessly sensitive Danny on along the path of pure carnal self-interest. But Danny, not to mention Debbie, is a poor study in the cool conquest department, and before you can say "pass the toothpaste" the couple are shacking up in immaculately lofted splendour. Bernie and Joy, meanwhile are, engaging in an ongoing cycle of slap-and-tickle that pits sex against love, singleness versus hooking up, and stubborn pride versus sweet surrender. And which side will prevail? Take a wild guess, dummy. It's Valentine's Day in downtown L.A.

As written by Leslye Headland, the 2014 model of About Last Night may be no less yuppie fantasy-prone than its Reagan-issue predecessor, but it beefs up the girl-side element of the story, incorporates considerably more frank sex talk, and generally provides its cast with a lot more meat to chew on and spit back out. Indeed, where the movie really hits its own distinctive stride are the scenes where Hart and Hall get all-out nasty with each other, developing a kind of antagonistic blue-streak rapport that sprinkles a welcome dose of jalapeno sting into what's otherwise a sticky bowl of warm sweetness.

But it's high quality sweetness, as carefully prepped and prettily presented as any of the meals, cocktails and home decorating binges partaken of our quartet of love-locked converts to the way of the heart. From its depiction of working life as a sitcom sideline incidental – what you do to get from one moonstruck evening to the next – to its presentation of L.A. as a real estate lifestyle wet dream, About Last Night is one of the movies that reminds you why the art of romantic seduction is one form of manipulation the movies are so rarely resented for. If the roses are fresh, the bouquet never fails. The petals won't fall until long after you have.

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