After Sunset (United States, 2004)
After the Sunset is a mess, but it's a breezy, fun mess. No one is ever going to mistake this for great art, but it has a charismatic cast, moves with an effortless pace, and, in the end, almost makes you forget that it doesn't do anything memorable. The film contains elements of a heist movie, a mismatched buddy picture, a sultry romance, and a James Bond thriller. There are all the requisite double-crosses, and a twist at the end that a blind man can see coming. After the Sunset doesn't accomplish any of its aims exceptionally well, but it does them with just enough élan to keep the majority of the audience involved and entertained. And, if one's interest starts to wane, there's plenty to look at. Veteran cinematographer Dante Spinotti captures the natural beauty of the Caribbean with almost as much flair as he shoots Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek. With two such photogenic actors, no viewer need ever be bored.
After the Sunset begins with the would-be final caper in the careers of master jewel thieves Max (Brosnan) and Lola (Hayek). After relieving FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson) of one of the three Napoleon diamonds, they disappear to an island paradise to enjoy their retirement. It doesn't take long before Max starts to feel like a prisoner; he's itching to try one more score, and his opportunity arrives with a cruise ship bearing another of the Napoleon diamonds. Along with the ship comes Agent Lloyd, who hooks up with a local cop, Sophie (Naomie Harris). And the island's kingpin (Don Cheadle) offers the infamous thief a lucrative partnership. The pull of committing the crime is almost too great to resist, but there is one thing holding Max back - Lola is serious about being retired. She has no intention of getting back in the business, and stealing the gem is a two-person job.
One of the weakest elements of After the Sunset is the caper. It's a generic steal-the-diamond-and-run heist, and the lack of inspiration invested in this aspect of the screenplay makes it apparent that the writers were more interested in other things. The hate/grudging admiration relationship between Stan and Max is one of the film's most enjoyable parts. Both actors develop appealing characters, and there's plenty of humor in their interaction. A scene with a shark is good for a few full-bellied laughs. These two are in a constant contest of one-upsmanship, and it's fun to watch them work each other. (Max is the better manipulator - or so it seems). They connect so well that I'm willing to forgive the cheap joke that forces them into an indelicate position. Equally enticing is the relationship between Max and Lola. These two generate plenty of heat. Why lie on the hot sand when you can bask in Brosnan and Hayek's glow?
Some things aren't as successful. For example, the relationship between Stan and Sophie is strained and artificial. Don Cheadle's gangster, while he exhibits a few quirky characteristics, doesn't serve any purpose beyond providing a red herring. And, although the movie explicitly references To Catch a Thief, it's wishful thinking on the part of the filmmakers that audiences would connect this movie to the Cary Grant classic. A more likely connection is to the Bond films. It wouldn't have surprised to me to see Q hiding somewhere in the background. Not only does Max have a remote control that allows him to drive a car without sitting inside it, but he has an acid drill that can eat through any "impenetrable" surface.
After the Sunset borders on being described as a "guilty pleasure," because, despite not being especially well-written, it nevertheless offers a 100-minute, unpretentious diversion. Director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) gets the tone right, and the actors play along. After the Sunset is a film of small moments and big laughs. If the production doesn't deliver on the level of The Sting, at least we don't walk out of the theater feeling stung.
After Sunset (United States, 2004)
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Don Cheadle, Naomie Harris
Screenplay: Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg
Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
Music: Lalo Schifrin
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema