Movie review: ‘After the Sunset’

ats3.jpgPierce Brosnan and Rene Russo showed in the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” that mid-fortysomething actors could put heat on the screen (click here for my review). It was steamy and modestly popular. Well, five years after the release of “The Thomas Crown Affair,” filmmakers hoped to recreate such passion with the pairing of Brosnan and Salma Hayek in “After the Sunset.” Although the usually smoldering Hayek was 13 years younger than her romantic lead and quite exotic, it didn’t work out well. “After the Sunset” wasn’t popular with audiences and critics are never known to be forgiving when things are really lacking. “After the Sunset’s” best work comes from Don Cheadle as an island gangster and the worst – no surprise here – from yet another abominable effort from the basically talentless Woody Harrelson.

‘After the Sunset’
(2004; 97 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Brett Ratner and starring Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek and Woody Harrelson)

FORCING THE PACE PROVES FATAL FOR THIS FILM

(NOTE: I expanded this review with some additional opinion, more trivia and the updating of links on April 12, 2018.)

The only word I could think of as I re-watched “After the Sunset” was “forced.” Everything about this film is forced: The acting; the “coolness” of its leading man; the overzealousness of a fed trying to capture a crook; and, most of all, the forcing of what passes for character development. “After the Sunset” isn’t a truly horrible film, but it only becomes modestly watchable because of its stunningly cinematic islands locale and the work of Don Cheadle in a supporting role that should have been bigger.

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Actually, “After the Sunset” has a nice caper plot and could have been a top-shelf member of the genre, but with everything else forced, the plot was too. So, add it up: The forced relationship between Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek (plus) how cool we’re forced to believe Brosnan to be (plus) the wickedly bad work by Woody Harrelson (equals) a less than memorable film.

The producers obviously wanted Brosnan, who plays “Max Burdett” here, to replicate the energy he found with Rene Russo in the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” in another caper film. In “After the Sunset” it was going to be with the beautiful Hayek, who plays “Lola Cirillo” here, and instead of an art theft, he was going for a diamond caper. Instead of recapturing magic, the film just lags with the forced pace and obvious copy-catting (is that a word?) – it offers an island setting; Brosnan drives an American muscle car on the island; and it doesn’t do its intricate theft anywhere as well as “The Thomas Crown Affair’s” museum robbery.

Sigh.

It did have promise, but ultimately scuttled itself by casting Harrelson. Virtually most any other actor (save an idiot whiner such as Sean Penn or too-full-of-himself with little talent exemplified by Tim Robbins) could have done better. Pretty much many leads in high school productions could have done a better job.

In “After the Sunset,” we’re introduced to a hyper Harrelson as “FBI Agent Stan Lloyd.” He’s concerned about a rare diamond from a fabulous collection he is delivering (one of the first plot puzzlers: why is the FBI providing presidential-level security for a privately owned diamond?). Of course it’s stolen by Brosnan and Hayek (who, the plot requires, must bend over the engine of a car – the first of several “bend over” shots for her) but he does manage to shoot Brosnan during the heist.

Fast forward to an island (I’d say the Caribbean, but it’s the Bahamas, which are not in the Caribbean Sea) and Brosnan and Hayek are “retired.” She keeps doing things such as scuba diving and he continues to look for a “hobby.” It isn’t too long before Harrelson appears. It seems the third diamond from the group of which two have been stolen by Brosnan will come to the island.

Now begins the caper bit and it ultimately involves local gangster “Henri Mooré” (pronounced “moray”)  played by Cheadle. Everyone is tricking everyone and the caper goes off and the twist ending goes off with Brosnan and Hayek enjoying their time in the sunset. Yawn. Although in competent hands the caper would have been engaging, but no so here.

  • Two-time Golden Globe nominee (not for this one) Brosnan is competent in his usual way, but he’s trying to maintain his manly character ability in the wake of losing the “James Bond” role (his fourth and last shot at that was in 2002 with “Die Another Day”) and it shows. He’s muscular and good looking at 51, but doesn’t have the sophistication and panache of the “Thomas Crown” role of five years earlier. He’s hot and cold here, sometimes having a spark but otherwise looking a bit uncomfortable. Brosnan was also in the TV mini-series “Noble House” (click here for my review) and played the straight man to Robin Williams’ manic and sarcastic “ Doubtfire.” I thought he did a wonderful job in the spy thriller “The Fourth Protocol” (click here for my review). He got his nominations for the film “The Matador” and the TV series “Nancy Astor.”
  • Oscar nominee (not for this one) Hayek aspires to elevate her character and you see the effort. However strong, talent can only go so far with any given role. Unfortunately, Hayek just comes off as window dressing with a character who could have had true strength. Sorry, Salma, but you came up short here. She was also in Quentin Tarantino’s ultra-violent bloodfest “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Desperado” with Antonio Banderas. Hayek did a better job in the simply terrific “Dogma” (click here for my review) and was nominated for “Frida.”
  • As I already wrote, Oscar nominee Cheadle is good here in a solid effort as the island gangster. His character is originally Henry Moore from Detroit, but he’s gone island. Cheadle shows the toughness and versatility to convey the part of a calculating gangster perfectly. He has also been in the “Ocean’s” franchise (click here for my review of the remake of “Eleven” or click here for my review of “Thirteen”) and was nominated for “Hotel Rwanda.”

Now, I unfortunately arrive at Harrelson.

  • I won’t mince words: Woody just plain stinks. A three-time Oscar nominee (not for this one), you can thank the film gods that he never won. Harrelson overacts in virtually every scene – if not every film; isn’t convincing as an FBI agent – or other character for the most part in any film; and looks truly muddled in his conviction in the role. He doesn’t laugh well; he doesn’t threaten well; and his scene with Brosnan on the fishing boat is just embarrassing – well, this whole film for him is embarrassing to the point of the audience’s dismay. I have better things to say about Woody for his work in the absolutely terrific “Zombieland” (click here for my review) but nothing else good about his career, even on TV’s “Cheers.” Well, the closest to his work in “Zombieland” was him being almost acceptable in “White Men Can’t Jump.” However, he was the problem with the film, which would have been near-perfect with anyone else – even Matthew Broderick – playing his role. Woody was nominated for … ah, who cares. I don’t.

Elsewhere in the film you’ll find Naomie Harris as island cop “Sophie” and is the second female lead here. She does a competent job and doesn’t manage to spoil her resume with her effort or its outcome. The movie is another story. She has also been in “Skyfall,” “28 Days Later …” and a couple of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. The rest of the supporting cast, from Mykelti Williamson and Obba Babatundé from the island and Chris Penn as a diversionary basketball fan in the first heist, is unremarkable.

I don’t know how much blame you can lay at the feet of director Brett Ratner. He’s had an uneven career as a director as he’s done great jobs such as “The Family Man” (click here for my review), but also stinkers such as “Tower Heist” (click here for my review). Still, with this screenplay and what was obviously expected of the Brosnan-Hayek pairing, I’m not sure anyone could have done better.

All in all, “After the Sunset” is a disappointment on just about all levels, but is watchable. Just don’t go out of your way to check it out.

Unlike “The Thomas Crown Affair,” which was modestly successful at 31st at the box office with $69.3 million, “After the Sunset” was a depressing 91st with $28.3 million in 2004, according to Box Office Mojo. Since the film had a budget of $59 million, according to Wiki, I’d say it was a flop with investors, too (unless the books were cooked as happens all too often with Hollywood numbers – but I doubt it here since the film is so bad). The No. 1 film was “Shrek 2” with $441.2 million. The other films that year that I have reviewed are:

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Pro athletes Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal and Gary Payton are themselves in the basketball sequence leading up to the first heist at the beginning of the film. O’Neal had a much bigger and better role in the college hoops film “Blue Chips” (click here for my review). Also shown in courtside shots are then-L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson and fan Dyan Cannon.
  • Look close, or just listen for his voice, and you’ll find TV’s “The Jeffersons” next door neighbor “Harry Bentley” as nighttime security officer. Paul Benedict plays the part as written and his accent is what they were going for – and you get it. Sadly, Benedict left us in 2008 at age 70 when he died of a brain hemorrhage.
  • Since Ratner is behind the silly but popular “Rush Hour” franchise, both Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker were offered roles in “After the Sunset.” Both turned down the offers. It would have been fun to see Jackie, but I’m glad the shrill, talentless Tucker wasn’t on screen even in this bad one.
  • Forget the Bahamas, the Brosnan-Hayek beach house exteriors were shot at Sycamore Cove State Beach north of Malibu in California.
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Pierce Brosnan and Brett Ratner were hoping to collaborate on the next James Bond movie, but after that fell through with Bond producers they decided to maintain their relationship and do this instead.”

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