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After the Sunset Print E-mail
Friday, 12 November 2004
ImageEveryone in “After the Sunset” looks like they’re having a grand time. And why not? There they are in the Bahamas in very good company—Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Don Cheadle, Naomie Harris—anybody would have a great time. Unfortunately, director Bret Ratner (“Rush Hour,” “Red Dragon”) is incapable of giving the audience the fun time his cast is having. The screenplay by Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg is all over the place, never congealing into the sparkling, suave and dashing caper thriller-comedy it is clearly intended to be.

In an early scene, Brosnan, then Harrelson, pick up a DVD of “To Catch a Thief.” We get it, fellas—you want this movie to be the same kind of charming, sexy, romantic adventure that Hitchcock-Cary Grant movie is. Unfortunately, though the on-screen talent would be up to that challenge, the folks behind the camera drop the ball. A few years ago, Brosnan starred in one of the few remakes that’s superior to the original, “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Now, that was exactly the kind of movie they’re shooting for here—but missing.

It’s not really a bad movie; with that cast and those gorgeous locales it would be hard to turn out a complete loser. “After the Sunset” is a mildly pleasant way to spend a couple of hours in a movie theater, but it should have been more than that.

It opens with a dazzling jewel theft in downtown Los Angeles, involving highly improbable long-distance electronic automobile operation, with everything so perfectly timed it’s more than improbable. The thieves’ plan makes a fool of FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson). Lakers fans might get a kick out of seeing some of the team, as the movie first opens in Staples Center during a game. Chris Penn is seen briefly here as an obnoxious fan; do not expect him to return later.

The heist was the brainchild of suave international jewel thief Max Burdett (Pierce Brosnan), who hies him hence to the Bahamas along with his awesomely gorgeous girlfriend Lola (the awesomely gorgeous Salma Hayek). Ratner has great fun for a few minutes displaying Hayek’s impressive charms, those she could hardly have flaunted in “Frida.”
She’s anxious for Max to actually announce that he’s given up jewel robbery, and tries to interest him in meeting tourists, joining her for tennis or SCUBA lessons, etc. These scenes are puzzling because the tourists she happily introduces him to over dinner are invariably clods, cretins and/or vulgarians. This approach confuses the viewer—why WOULDN’T he go back to jewel robbery if this is the only choice he has? Since Lola was his partner in the L.A. heist, there’s no clear evidence that she isn’t ready to go back to work herself; her saying so isn’t exactly proof.

American gangster Henry Moore (Don Cheadle), who likes to call himself Henri Mooré, approaches Max to perform a certain theft. The giant diamond Max stole in L.A. is one of three known as the Napoleon set; Max has stolen the first two—would he be interesting in stealing the third? It’s aboard a giant luxury cruise ship now in the island’s harbor.

There’s a problem, though. Stan shows up in the Bahamas, too. He also thinks Max is likely to go after that third diamond, and he wants to be there to grab him when he tries it. The grinning FBI agent is attracted to local cop Sophie (Naomi Harris, from “28 Days Later”).

Things are set up, and then the movie just kind of sits there until near the end. Everything is supposed to be effervescent and witty, but though there are some laughs, mostly it’s just flat and kind of droning. Some scenes look thrown in. Max decides to go fishing, and Stan comes along, just the two of them. Someone secretly takes pictures of them rubbing sunblock on each other.

Max later quarrels with Lola when she realizes he IS going after the diamond, so Max moves into Stan’s hotel room (paid for by Max). When the two are found in bed the next day by Sophie and Stan’s boss, everyone thinks they’ve gone all gay on them, especially when Sophie whips out those photos. But all of this has absolutely nothing at all to do with the caper story, or with Max’s relationship with Lola, since they get back together almost immediately. The scenes are mildly funny because Brosnan and Harrelson are so likeable on screen, and because they’re enjoying themselves. But the movie would have worked better without these scenes.

Harrelson has been mostly off screen for a few years now, and it’s good to see him back. Here, he’s not playing his usual hick/dolt character, but an FBI agent who’s not as smart as he thinks he is. But Harrelson, though likeable, isn’t charming; we don’t quite buy Naomie Harris falling for him, though she’s so stunning it’s easy to accept any man flipping for her. Also, part of the idea seems to be that Max and Stan are a matched pair, one on each side of the law, and that they would be friends under almost any other circumstances. But this is only glanced at, not made essential to the plot. It is essential, of course, that they underestimate each other, which leads to the several twists in the last reel.

Brosnan exudes charm, even when in shades and unshaven, as he is here much of the time. But his performance is low on energy; he’s coasting where he should be moving forward. We never know what Max is thinking, but are rarely surprised when we realize what he’s up to. There’s only a brief moment of real tension in the film, and it comes in late. There’s nothing here to challenge Brosnan, and it’s easy to conclude that he knows it.

Salma Hayek—well, words fail me. I think she’s very smart to alternate serious work with audience-pleasing fluff like this, and of course she looks great in the abbreviated clothes she wears here. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti seems to be especially enamored of her rear, and who could blame him? Don Cheadle seems shoehorned into the story; he has only a few scenes, and isn’t able to establish a real character for this gangster.

Technically, the film is fine; the photography is beautiful, though not as romantic and ravishing as it might have been. The locations and sets are attractively tropical, and all other technical aspects are up to par. But that’s what you expect in features these days.

“After the Sunset” is pleasant, relaxed and light—but also vague and unfocused. It’s like the title: sunsets means something special to Lola, but she never says what it is—so why this title? Sunsets don’t mean much to anyone else in the story. As I did, you might feel your attention start to wander, so that you pay more attention to the beautiful locations and attractive people than to the story. But then again, the story never really clicks in.

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