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A Thief Not Worth Catching

Brosnan & Co. Sleepwalk Their Way Through 'After the Sunset'

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2004; Page C05

"After the Sunset" is a heist picture, but the true crime is the eight bucks the filmmakers want to steal from you.

Best advice: Don't let them get away with it.


Pierce Brosnan's Max gets a tub scene with Salma Hayek's Lola in "After the Sunset," but it's the audience that takes a bath. (Glen Wilson -- New Line Productions)

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The film is thin, insipid and unconvincing except when it argues for Salma Hayek's beauty. Nearly everyone else in it appears to be dozing on the way to payday.

Pierce Brosnan plays a very cool, high-end burglar whose specialty is that ingenious mix of meticulous planning, custom equipment and wit (rather than brute force) known as the caper. Diamonds being a thief's best friend, he has knocked off two of the three known "Napoleons," huge doorknob-like gems once legendarily affixed to the emperor's ceremonial sword.

Now in retirement in the Caribbean with his accomplice and lover (Hayek), he has an opportunity to go three for three: The diamond will be displayed on a luxury liner in port for a week. Everyone wants him to steal the stone, including his friendly nemesis, a frustrated FBI agent (Woody Harrelson) and an American gangster who's taken over the island's crime (Don Cheadle), the former to finally catch him, the latter to take the money and run.

Meant to be a cat-and-mouse dance between the elegant thief and the more plebeian Fed, the movie is much more of a mutt-and-bull movie, as Brosnan too lazily evokes the Bond archetype that's paid his rent over the years and Harrelson overacts to the point of nausea, throwing the delicate equilibrium of character off. What was meant to be feather-light, clever, disposable entertainment is just a long travelogue; the only highlights are the crystal-blue waters and Hayek's wardrobe of swimsuits and sleepytime thingies.

What annoys me the most about the film is that it doesn't play fair. It wants to sell us on Brosnan's insouciant genius as the unflappable Max Burdett, yet it never makes us believe it. No one, including director Brett Ratner, has put the capers together with any particular shrewdness.

Instead, Burdett has a miraculous assortment of custom gizmos that help in his jobs, though, of course, the movie never documents the engineering, electronic and machining skills that would have to go into such devices. I mean, what are you supposed to think when at one point he simply pulls out a tiny gadget that (a) deposits acid on a supposedly unbreakable Plexiglas case, melting a perfect hole in it, and then (b) converts instantly -- while it dangles at the end of a fishing line -- into a delicate set of pincers capable of removing the diamond from its perch in the just-penetrated case. It comes from nowhere; did he buy it in the local Masterthieves R Us outlet or possibly from eBay's "Criminal Equipment" section?

Or what about the remote-control mouse that enables him to take control of an FBI SUV, lock it from the outside and drive it robotically to a hidden location, with an irate Harrelson aboard? The movie just isn't clever enough by half.

What remains is unconvincing light patter between the participants and the vanity that they're competing with Cary Grant in Hitchcock's genuinely brilliant light caper "To Catch a Thief," which is invoked a number of times. Come on, who are they kidding?

Then there's the somewhat contemptible inclusion of the Cheadle character, who exists only to bring a gratuitous element of danger to the picture. The character isn't well thought out and comes close to racial stereotype. It's also quite annoying to see an actor of Cheadle's caliber in such a cliche. He played a similar thug in "Out of Sight," but in that film he had the room and the time to conjure a fully complex bad guy; this portrait is just phoned in.

After the Sunset (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual innuendo.


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