ZERO STARS/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B
starring Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Don Cheadle
screenplay by Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg
directed by Brett Ratner
by Walter Chaw Hard to know by their films whether Michael Bay or Brett Ratner is the bigger asshole, but when cold reaches a certain level it's just cold, so I'm comfortable calling it a draw. Ratner's latest, After the Sunset, is Trouble in Paradise by way of the Pierce Brosnan version of The Thomas Crown Affair: a joyless exercise in the sex-play heist genre featuring a plastic couple for whom, when they first met, it was grand larceny. Along the way, there's enough leering misogyny to satisfy a legion of folks either too young or too afraid of God to go rent some good old-fashioned, red-blooded porn. Audiences for this garbage choose instead to slake their venal lusts, to for a moment calm the roil of inadequacy and self-doubt at the public trough of screaming homophobia, queer gun-fondling, and enough women making bad decisions in front of a camera-wielding man to fill a "Girls Gone Wild" video.
What's not to like about After the Sunset if you're a slope-browed American male? In fewer than ten minutes, Ratner gives us a car driven by remote control (oooh), Salma Hayek crawling around in a halter that barely restrains her tits (aaah), a Lakers game (oooh), and the fetishization of a man of Irish heritage (ach aye). It offers excrescent, excruciating dialogue like "You're making me nervous...and I don't get nervous," its poster art suggests the cover of a Clive Cussler novel, and every woman in the piece is an ornamental nympho, hooker, dominatrix, or some combination of the three, grateful in any event for two minutes of quickie sex. Hayek is Lola, master thief girlfriend of master thief Max (Brosnan). They've retired to a desert island when disgraced FBI agent Stan (Woody Harrelson) darkens their doorstep with news of another heist that the happy couple haven't committed, but might. An afterthought is pimp/gangster Henry (Don Cheadle), in there to provide a black man who's a criminal with a bullet with his name on it. Consider a scene where Henry tells Max that he wants to talk to him alone, and the punchline is that they're alone except for his two hooker bodyguards. "You ever known the pleasure of anonymous sex?" Henry asks. I hadn't, either, until After the Sunset.
There's a joke in here about turning a children's hospital into a training facility for paramilitary insurgents, but it doesn't play like a joke because it's exactly the kind of slime in which After the Sunset wallows. The film wants to be light-hearted, but its comedic centerpiece is a scene where Max and Stan put suntan lotion on one another and then, later, find themselves spooning in bed together as a quartet of strangers stumble in on them. The level of hatred for gays in the United States would be impossible if it weren't for the tacit acceptance of this kind of venomous sludge amongst even the "enlightened" population--and the open acceptance of the same by our leadership. It's a frightening thing to contemplate that the issue of two guys kissing might have turned the tide in this year's presidential election more than our dunderheaded foreign policy and polarized domestic situation did. There's a culture war at least, and After the Sunset is a salvo fired from the red states. Greed is still good.
After the Sunset isn't just a bad film--it's a dangerous, dispiriting one. It comes like a Michael Bay movie, with the sheen of a big budget and the glow of a beautiful, recognizable cast. And when all the dust settles, the only thing un-besmirched is the inviolate heterosexuality and wealth of the white protestant male. The picture gratifies the fantasy of a world without queers, where all the blacks are public servants, musicians, or scumbags and all the exotic women want to have sex with you no matter how inadequate you fear you might be. A moment where Brosnan quietly retracts his fishing pole says volumes about the sadness at the so-to-speak root of this testosterone opera. Women are submissive sluts, ridiculous objects ("Feisty!" the strongest woman character in the piece is described by two winking men) for the riding--likewise minorities. You want to scoff at After the Sunset for its Neanderthal worldview, but apparently it reflects the majority opinion. It's hard sometimes to find the will.
by Bill Chambers Does Brett Ratner have a sense of self-awareness? From the naming of his prodco "Rat Productions" to the curiously unflattering behind-the-scenes accounts of his films that he has personally commissioned, Ratner's actions ring inscrutable: is he that guy who farts with pride, inviting everyone in the vicinity to take a whiff, or is he oblivious to the fact that he is, as Fat Albert used to say, like school on Saturday? ("No class.") I mean, neither the ostentatiousness that Ratner displays in Kevin Krakower's "Before, During and After the Sunset" (71 mins.)--a ludicrously indulgent making-of documentary for such a hard and deserved flop as After the Sunset--nor the sheer volume of transparent humouring shown him by a teeth-gritting cast and crew therein would be so surprising if this weren't business as usual for the DVD of Ratner's latest turdbath. The man doesn't appear to possess a micron of shame, although there's obviously a chance that all his on-camera cock-twirling--demonstrating the art of a temper tantrum for Chris Freakin' Penn, referring to Jackie Chan sans irony as a "Chinaman," daring NBA players to molest his girlfriend (tennis star/twin Serena Williams, I think), attending After the Sunset's premiere with legendary player (in every sense of the word) Robert Evans, etc.--in the face of two key moments (one in which he tries to trick Pierce Brosnan into kissing him, the other in which he tries to trick Woody Harrelson into kissing him) is overcompensation of the methinks-the-lady-doth-protest-too-much variety.
Ratner is no more ingratiating on After the Sunset's commentary tracks (why would he be?), but at least there he's a) unseen, and b) got company in the form of producer Beau Flynn and editor Mark Helfrich. The trio optionally gabs over fifteen deleted/alternate scenes (totalling 17 mins.) that were mostly cut/altered not for time, but for tone: a confrontation between Salma Hayek and Pierce Brosnan was reshot, for instance, because it was too harsh and, yep, not sexy enough. (Tellingly, Ratner's solution was right out of that "Saturday Night Live" skit where Alec Baldwin plays a predatory Scout Master: do it again with Brosnan in the bath.) For all intents and purposes, what didn't make the final cut was just more of the same low comedy, though with their green-screen backdrops, travelling mattes, and mimed tennis swings, some of these elisions are entertaining for what's not there. Ratner, Flynn, and Helfrich return in a screen-specific feature-length yakker to offer invaluable insights along the lines of "that guy in the yellow sweater...was in Trading Places," and "I love this." It joins a shockingly average (for New Line) 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer*--nothing is wrong with the presentation per se, yet the film looks older than it should here, wilted somehow. Equally bland is the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, if only because a frying pan to the head should sound like one and this is a mix of unsolicited subtlety.
Rounding out the video-based extras: a 5-minute blooper reel consisting mostly of intentional, class-clown-style blunders (because crews love watching their lives slip away); an obsequious-even-for-Charlie Rose segment of the "Charlie Rose Show" (18 mins.) featuring guests Ratner, Hayek, and Brosnan; an "Interview with a Jewel Thief" (8 mins.) that, however interesting (ghoulishly charismatic interviewee Bill Mason accumulated $35M robbing from the likes of Robert Goulet and Phyllis Diller), is undermined by sad boasts from Q&A conductor Ratner about his own wealth and social status; and "Visual Effects Comparisons" (3 mins.), a before-and-after montage narrated by Helfrich that illustrates the disturbing infiltration of Lucas-style perfectionism (fabricating pensive shots of Hayek through cutting and pasting, for example) in mainstream Hollywood product. Two TV spots for After the Sunset plus the film's theatrical trailer and trailers for Monster-in-Law (Jane Fonda un-retired for that?) and Wedding Crashers round out the single-platter release. Originally published: March 30, 2005.