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Sunday, October 5, 2008

FILM REVIEW OF ''AFTER THE SUNSET" (2004)

Hardcore Hitchcock fans should take umbrage at the homage paid the master of suspense in the Bret Ratner movie "After The Sunset," (** out of ****), starring Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris, and Don Cheadle. The second time that the two male leads confront each other, they briefly discuss the Cary Grant/Grace Kelly film classic that Alfred Hitchcock helmed in 1955. Indeed, this adroitly-staged tribute to "To Catch A Thief" wins points for subtlety, because most audiences will miss it. Brosnan asks Harrelson to return his DVD rental copy of the movie before the deadline. Unfortunately, "After The Sunset" suffers by comparison with Hitchcock's slickly-done piece of superior artifice. Clearly, "After The Sunset" doesn't belong in the same league with "To Catch A Thief." Similarly, as electronic surveillance heist thrillers go, "After The Sunset" offers no new combinations. Freshman scenarist Paul Zbyszewski of TV's "The Weakest Link" and co-writer Craig Rosenberg of "Hotel de Love" (1996) prefer to recycle clich├ęs in this predictable potboiler. Ratner shoulders part of the blame, since he shot every scene that they wrote. Basically, "After The Sunset" represents Bret Ratner at his worst. Ratner's first film "Money Talks" (1997) far surpasses this half-baked hokum. A seasoned cast of veterans and the inviting Caribbean scenery cannot overshadow the shortcomings of this tired, oft-told tale. Actually, the 1975 Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau comedy "The Return of the Pink Panther" ranks as the best known "To Catch A Thief" remake. In the Sellers version they paid homage to Hitchcock with the rather apt line: "To catch a thief one must be a thief." Interestingly, "After The Sunset" appropriates the amiable antics between hero and villain in the Ryan O'Neal crime comedy "The Thief Who Came To Dinner" (1973). O'Neal treats his adversary like his best friend, so he can manipulate him with greater ease. Compared to Brosnan's earlier stolen goods yarn "The Thomas Crown Affair," "After The Sunset" is sinks below the horizon.The footloose action opens with an improbable but entertaining gem heist that owes more to Brosnan's own James Bond extravaganza "Tomorrow Never Dies." Remember the scene when 007 drove the car from the back-seat with a remote control gadget? Professional jewel thief Max Burdett (Pierce Brosnan of "Die Another Day") and his sexy girlfriend Lola Cirillo (Salma Hayek of "Frida") mastermind a high-tech robbery on wheels. The FBI is transporting a priceless French diamond, and Special Agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson of "Play It To The Bone") is in charge of seeing that the stone gets to its destination without his long-time nemesis Max stealing it. Max and Stan have a history, we learn, because Max has stolen a diamond from Stan before and gotten away scot-free. Now, even as Stan rides in an armor- plated convoy of impregnable SUVs with an army of FBI shooters, he fears that Max may strike. Suddenly, the indestructible SUV designed to shield him from terrorists becomes his Achilles heel. Literally, Max commandeers the vehicle with his remote control and steers the SUV away from the FBI, with Stan struggling helplessly inside with no way to override Max's control. Happily, Ratner orchestrates these shenanigans with such verve that you probably won't question the logic that governs this all-too-perfect heist. Eventually, they gas Stan and take the bauble. Before he passes out, Stan puts a .38 slug into our hero's shoulder and draws blood. Everything after this scene amounts to an exercise in anti-climax. Nevertheless, Max and Lola elude capture and retire to the Caribbean where they plan to tie the knot. Special Agent Lloyd has other ideas, especially when he discovers that a cruise ship with another fabulous French diamond has docked at Max's island. Lola wants Max to write his wedding vows and forget about the diamond. Stan nags him about the gem. If he can goad Max into stealing the diamond, Stan believes he can bust him. At the same time, Max has quietly grown fed-up with eating lobster in paradise. Eventually, a smooth-talking island gangster Henri Moree (Don Cheadle of "Swordfish") rears his oily head and coerces Max into helping him snatch the ice. Along the way, a feisty female island cop Sophie (Naomie Harris of "28 Days Later"), who lives for the day when she can bust Moree, hooks up with Stan and helps him harass Max.Presumably, "After The Sunset" looked better on paper to the New Line Cinema executives who green lighted it. Although Ratner maintains a breezy, lighthearted pace throughout its frivolous 100 minute running time, this crime comedy lacks imagination. The plot revolves around a chess-like game of one-upmanship. The impossible jewel heist that the movie uses as a centerpiece for suspense poses few obstacles for our nimble-witted hero. The unexpected never happens. Brosnan and Hayek make the perfect romantic couple. Watch what they're doing when you first see them in paradise. Sadly, however, after the slam-bang opening gambit, "After The Sunset" gives Hayek little to do other than model bikinis and flaunt cleavage. For the record, Hayek presents about as much of her pulchritude as the PG -13 rating would permit. Meanwhile, the cat & mouse by-play between Brosnan and Harrelson is amusing enough. "After The Sunset" provides more spills than thrills. The scene where Brosnan and Harrelson wind up in bed together qualifies as the film's funniest laugh. The first act that establishes the Brosnan/Harrelson rivalry shows promise, but the second act complicates things with the additional characters. Everything unravels in the third act, and the ending feels shoe-horned. Indeed, the action book-ends together neatly enough, but the overall effect is less than satisfactory. Skip "After The Sunset."

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