Times Film Critic

"About Last Night" (citywide) has taken playwright David Mamet's taut, vitriolic, dazzlingly funny valentine to the one-night stand and turned it into a hilarious, insightful, bawdy Baedeker to The Relationship today, post-sexual revolution and pre-AIDS.

Mamet fans may be taken aback. His characters are in place and more or less still recognizable. The outrageous sexual reminiscence that opens the play still opens the movie, delivered absolutely full throttle by Jim Belushi (the movie's language is a lot like the play's: i.e., the fainthearted will simply faint).

But not very much more of Mamet exists, not even his play's deadpan title, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago."

However, what is there, in place of his identifiable rhythms, is tender, marvelously well played (by almost everyone) and thoroughly engaging. When it comes to the current sexual skirmishes between men and women, screenwriters Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue (Second City alumni) know every inch of enemy territory and take no prisoners.

A playful, above-par-for-the-course one-nighter leaves both parties, Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, daydreaming about the other the next day. As they meet over a successive string of dates, what began lightly turns unexpectedly deeper. Precipitously, the Chicago ad-agency artist (Moore) moves in with the wholesale grocery salesman (Lowe).

Can attraction survive cohabitation? Can her herb teas coexist with his industrial-size jars of kosher dills? Can a college dropout with a hankering for his own diner find happiness with a girl who looks as though she chaired Mademoiselle's college board? Will either of their best friends--his aggressively sewer-mouthed buddy James Belushi, her tart-tongued roommate Elizabeth Perkins--ever forgive them? Does anyone care?

Unexpectedly, we do. Terribly. Moore makes us care, as we watch her run the dangerous rapids of the modern love affair, with all its peculiar, inviolable rules. "I love you" is the forbidden phrase; "I love to make love to you" is safe. No ties, no commitment, no entanglements are the bylaws . . . and she's gone ahead and fallen in love. It's a deeply felt, exquisitely played performance.

Lovely newcomer Elizabeth Perkins, as a kindergarten teacher who adores her young charges but has a little more trouble with her grown-up relationships, makes us care. Pretty, funny, needy; too bright by half for most of the men she meets, her mouth keeps men at bay, her attitude takes care of most of the rest.

She and Moore are roommates/best friends by the new rules too, but nothing covers that feeling of superfluousness when, in the presence of your dazzling roommate, a man all but stubs his cigarette out on you.

Belushi makes us care too. It's a pretty astonishing feat, since Bernie Litko's vast, wide-ranging crassness takes your breath away. He's known "broads" in every conceivable size, position and altitude; he just don't know what love is. The thought of losing his closest buddy to a stable relationship sends him into a panic of inventiveness: anything to break things up between them. There is a residual sweetness to Belushi, however, which not even Bernie's slobbishness can steamroller out, and it saves the day.

With Rob Lowe, you gotta admit he's trying harder. Blown away by Belushi, who, after all, played Bernie at Chicago's Apollo Theater Center; outpointed by Moore's sincerity and strength, and outplayed by Perkins' stage training, he struggles for depths of feeling that just aren't there, but it's an honest fight. (And when Lowe's delivery just can't cut it, director Edward Zwick keeps his camera on Moore's tremulous face, which tells volumes.)

There are moments when "About Last Night" stops dead for the obligatory MTV interlude, but otherwise Zwick keeps things in admirable balance. A writer-producer-director from television, with AFI-fellow beginnings, Zwick has humor, quickness and sensitivity, enough to make "About Last Night" a notable feature debut. It was produced by Apollo Theater Center creators Jason Brett and Stuart Oken.

Zwick's characters are young, his milieu is specifically Chicago; the world of the beloved neighborhood bar and the Saturday-morning sandlot ball games are his landmarks. Particularly, his movie questions whether today's young lovers, who know so much about sex, can ever admit their innocence in matters of the heart. But writers DeClue and Kazurinsky have created a recognizable geography for every age; you suspect that "About Last Night" will set off pangs of identification everywhere.

'ABOUT LAST NIGHT' A Tri-Star Release. Executive producer Arnold Stiefel. Producers Jason Brett, Stuart Oken. Director Edward Zwick. Screenplay Tim Kazurinsky, Denise DeClue, based on "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" by David Mamet. Camera Andrew Dintenfass. Editor Harry Keramidas. Production design Ida Random. Costumes Deborah L. Scott. Music supervisor Bones Howe. With Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, James Belushi, Elizabeth Perkins, George DiCenzo, Michael Alldredge, Donna Gibbons, Megan Mullally, Patricia Duff, Sachi Parker.

Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (persons under 17 must be accompanied by parent or adult guardian).

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