Name Droppings (a movie and screening review of “After the Sunset”)

I didn't make it into any of these wire/Getty images.... shunned by the press once again, I am.

And normally I wouldn’t devote this much space to picking on a movie that’s already getting a proper spanking from so many other critics as it is, but since I was lucky enough to attend the New York premiere of “After the Sunset” at the premier NYC location for such events -- the Ziegfeld -- on Tuesday night, I thought, “Hey, what the hell, let’s kick this flick while it’s down.”

Despite being stuck between hyper-happy, super-friendly, ADD puppy-dog director Brett Ratner, hip-hop and clothing mogul Russell Simmons, and Russell's super-tall, super-hot model/designer wife while I road the escalator out of the theatre to the New Line Cinema SUV's that were waiting to take us to the big premiere party at the NYC Warner Brothers building, I couldn't bring myself to talk to Brett, because the only appropriate way to start a chat would have been congratulating him on his film, but I find his films to be so second-rate that I began choking when I thought about kissing ass.... and I also couldn't say anything snippy or sarcastic, 'cause I wanted to drink the man's top-shelf free booze.

(All the while, Russell’s wife, the once-arrested Kimora Lee Simmons -- creative director of the Baby Phat clothing company -- kept popping what appeared to be breath mints, candies, or pills into Russell’s mouth, without Russell ever asking for or refusing the mystery objects periodically placed between his lips. In fact he never even looked in her direction, yet she always seemed to know when he might need his, uh, vitamin. When not feeding hubby, Kimora is a flirt, flirt, FLIRT wit da boys! With lots of behind-the-back-and- away-from-the-spouse hand-grabbing with chubby little Ratner, the man who attracts super-models and sports stars like rotting beef attracts coyotes.)

"After the Sunset"

So off to the after party I went, and drink I did – shoulder-to-shoulder with Alan Cumming and his boy toy. After getting good and hammered, I later wandered into the director's private after-after-party, where I spilled a drink on the coats of some celebrities (I’ll likely be barred from celebrity bashes in the future) and kept not seeing Salma Hayek every time she passed by -- I never even saw her once, although I’m told that she and Penelope Cruz walked right by me multiple times -- I must have been too boozed to notice the short-statured, well-endowed starlets (back to hard-drugs for me, then, ‘cause the John Barleycorn is making me near-sited). I also never spotted Don “Devil in a Blue Dress” Cheadle.

But I did see Reverend Run and various other celebs.

Saw: Brosnan and his legion of pandering followers. Saw: Woody Harrelson, who seemed cool, relaxed, and left early. Saw: people whose names I should probably know, but don’t. Saw: a drunken lady who claimed to be the ex-manager of the Ramones (I should have talked to this grizzled, punkish woman more, as she was stylishly smoking a cigarette in a no-smoking room in the midst of a bunch of high-powered non-smokers, which is wonderful -- especially considering that the infamously anti-cigarette Mayor Bloomberg did the honors of introducing the film beforehand -- but the music was so loud I couldn’t make out a word of what she was saying).

Regrettably, I also didn't have a decent finished screenplay to try selling to any of these wankers . . . so my time to sell-out and stop being a cynic has not yet come.

But I’m so grateful to Brett Ratner for allowing me into his screening and parties that I’ve decided to give his film a thorough and honest review. I’m going to take an original approach here and break the film down by actor:

Pierce Brosnan: limited range and no chemistry with women. I always felt like he was an emasculated Bond, but since the Bond character's wimpiness is usually blamed on the Bond producers, one would expect Brosnan to have more verve and vitality when acting in a non-Bond film. But he doesn't. He's just a pretty boy playing the same basic character here has in the past, with James Bond or Thomas Crown. If he’s hoping to have a respectable post-Bond career, this pay-me-now-and-ask-questions-latter dreck was not the vehicle to drive out onto the world-cinema freeway.

Don Cheadle: severely under-utilized. He's given one funny little speech, but otherwise he's a one-dimensional bad-guy that flits in and out of the film only when the plot needs some momentum. He sleepwalks through the entire role.

Salma Hayek: looks amazing. But her character is so flat, any Playmate or model (with or without acting talent) could have played the part. Actually, "flat" may be the wrong term, because her primary character trait consists of wearing low-cut tops and Wonderbras and leaning over cars, countertops, and other objects in an attempt to distract filmgoers from the flick’s lack of originality by consistently dangling her bosoms like Liberty Bells ringing for freedom in the center of the screen. We know Hayek has more acting skill than this, but she's does little to elevate herself beyond a Maxim magazine pin-up spread.

Woody Harrelson: perhaps the flick's saving grace. At times, Woody projects a strange, captivating intensity. Although his character is written nearly as one-dimensionally as the others, Woody's eyes glare and his brow flinches and furrows and his body twitches as he visibly sinks into character and dredges up motivation. Self-loathing, disappointment, and jealousy are all palpable whenever the script gives him the chance. And his comedic timing is grand. However, the ham-handed direction sledgehammers the jokes so relentlessly that by the end of the film Harrelson's performance has collapse in upon itself, becoming a cartoon parody. He's the hapless Wile E. Coyote, chewing up the sunny scenery.

Naomie Harris: a sexy bad-ass, looking and sounding so different from her sexy-badass character in "28 Days later" that most people won't notice it's the same young talent (look for her next in Michael Winterbottom's "Tristram Shandy" in 2005). As the only native of the Bahamian island on which the majority of the film takes place, her character has the benefit of possessing the most realistic past (i.e., one that includes an ex-husband and real crime cases, and not robotic-super cars and bumbling FBI agents inexplicably driving diamonds to Laker games). We see hints of her history on the island as she interacts with her fellow police officers and local criminals. She and Woody have real chemistry, and she mostly nails the local accent and cheap gags.

(Note: I've been informed that Harris' accent is actually more Jamaican than the intended Bahamian, a mistake probably due to her having previous experiences with Jamaican accents—much of her family is based in Jamaica, and she used a Jamaican inflection in the film "White Teeth." However, to an untrained ear like my own, she sounded superb, creating a character that looked and sounded unique in comparison to her past roles. Her chameleon-like efforts have been reworded with choice roles in the upcoming blockbuster-sequel "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" and Michael Winterbottom’s "Tristram Shandy.")

Naomie Harris

The most interesting and original aspects of the film occur when the cartoon cat-and-mouse game between Woody and Pierce subsides and is replaced by an odd-couple-of-couples comedy -- the criminals played by Brosnan and Hayek surprisingly become friends with the cops played by Harrelson and Harris. They double-date, drink, work out their romantic pitfalls, and have a good time.

However, after this brief genre switch, the jewel-heist plot kicks back in, Woody becomes Pierce’s slapstick enemy again, and Hayek's weak, movie-long protests against Brosnan's continuing criminal lifestyle disappear as soon as he pops the question of marriage. Naomie Harris all but vanishes from the film, Woody's abandonment of her not even mentioned. The final scene of the film might better belong in a bad National Lampoon parody of Brosnan's verison of The Thomas Crown Affair (which itself was merely a lush remake of a far more inventive Steve McQueen epic).

"After the Sunset"
does have some genuine laughs and thrills, but they're few and far between. The best humor involves juvenile homophobia jokes -- Harrelson and Brosnan being found in bed together by the FBI, Harrelson and Brosnan awkwardly rubbing suntan lotion on each other's bodies, etc. That may not being saying much, but the only other positive comment I can think of would be to mention that the film moves along at a very quick pace; but a fast-moving bad movie does not a good movie make.

At the screening, director Brett Ratner mentioned that a top production executive at New Line Cinema came over to his house late one night with the "After the Sunset" script. He insisted on reading the entire film to Ratner out loud. By the times he was done reading, Brett was convinced that they had a work of genius in their possession. Brosnan had already signed on, so with big-name director and star attached, the film was ready to go.

After listening to this story and then seeing the finished product, I couldn’t help but wonder if the New Line exec wasn't actually reading Ratner the screenplay to "Before Sunset", the superior Richard Linklater/Ethan Hawke film from earlier this year. Or maybe Ratner and New Line got confused by the script's frequent references to the classic "To Catch a Thief" (Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly) and thought that mentioning a grand jewel-heist comedy-thriller repeatedly was just as good as making a grand jewel-heist comedy-thriller.

Regrettably, they were wrong. But despite this sugary, soulless confection Ratner will continue as a top dog in Hollywood because his films -- including the syrupy “The Family Man,” the plodding “Red Dragon,” and the “Rush Hour” trilogy (“Rush Hour III” is due in 2005, so fasten your seatbelts!) – have reportedly grossed a combined sum of around one billion dollars. In Hollywood terms, “one billion dollars” = “genius.” And maybe they’re right: He’s young, he’s hip, and the unwashed massed love his flicks . . . fabulous!

But Ratner’s films still give me the cold shakes, regardless. As did the long, pretentious, self-congratulatory speeches that Ratner and the New Line execs regaled the audience with before the premiere. Give these guys a chance, and they’d all give themselves Oscars.


Related posts:

"The Aviator" Review, DiCaprio Q&A, "Kill Bill," and Aussie Lamb All Taste A-OK

Movie Reviews and News (December 2004)


Anonymous said...

I am a Bahamian and to say that Naomi Harris nailed the local accent is completely wrong. She sounded like a native of Jamaica which to anyone who has been to both the Bahamas and Jamaica is an insult. I reccomend that they find a more competent actor to play a Bahamian next time.

Film Cans said...

NIce blog i like it
Movies pander to our wild senses, titillate our innermost emotions and just pep up our lives. Movies are today just a mini caricature of our real life. In a very big way, the real life has transformed and this is portrayed on the celluloid nowadays