Eric D. Snider

After the Sunset

In a perfect world, there would be a place to send actors who have outlived their usefulness, some sort of home or ranch where they could live out their days peacefully without trying to wedge themselves into movies where they don't belong. Pierce Brosnan would live there, and so would Woody Harrelson, and "After the Sunset" wouldn't exist. Ah, what a world that would be.

But in our imperfect world, Brosnan keeps playing the same role, merely changing the character's name from James Bond to Thomas Crown or whatever. He is always smooth and rakish, always well-dressed, always a ladies man of the highest order, and often very boring.

Then there's Harrelson, whose best work has been in sitcoms -- as Woody on "Cheers," of course, but also in his guest stint as Grace's boyfriend on "Will & Grace" a couple years ago -- and seldom in film. He has a dopey, plastic-faced quality to him, with a dumb grin that begs for smacking, and his performances are nearly always one-dimensional.

So here's "After the Sunset," a by-the-numbers jewel-heist caper about a retired thief who comes out of retirement for one last job, and also about the dogged lawman who relentlessly pursues him. I hate to keep harping on this point week after week, but do the people who make movies not realize that most of us have seen movies before and are therefore not impressed when the same formulas keep popping up again and again? Do they think they're being original? Or do they know they're being lazy and simply don't care?

Brosnan is Max Burdett, the world's foremost jewel thief, now retired with his girlfriend and partner Lola (Salma Hayek) on a Caribbean island. The lawman, Stan Lloyd (Harrelson), for whom Max is his Moby Dick, has followed them here because of an interesting fact: A cruise ship housing the enormous Napoleon Diamond (not to be confused with Napoleon Dynamite) will be stopping at this very island soon. Surely a sticky-fingered fellow like Max can't resist a chance at this allegedly un-stealable item, and now Stan can be there to catch him at last.

Max keeps insisting he's retired, though, both to Stan and to Lola. He tells the local kingpin (Don Cheadle) the same thing when said kingpin tries to hire him to steal the diamond. But we know the siren song of thievery will call out to him. The only question is when, and will he get away with it? (So I guess that's two questions, sorry.)

The screenplay, by Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg, both novices, is short on originality but occasionally makes up for it with the sort of glib, coy dialogue between adversaries that can make a movie like this fun. Max and Stan are only enemies in philosophy; personally, they really have nothing against each other, and the film occasionally makes good use of that fact, letting them commiserate when their respective girlfriends get mad at them for obsessing over their quarry (Stan's pursuit of Max, Max's pursuit of the diamond). There is potential for good comedy there, exploring the relationship between two men who, were it not for their divergent professions, would probably be drinking buddies.

But the film squanders most of those opportunities, instead giving us shtick like the bit where two men fall asleep on the same bed and wake up cuddling, har har. The director is Brett Ratner, whose excellent work in "Red Dragon" was apparently a fluke, since all of his other films -- "Money Talks," "Rush Hour," "Rush Hour 2" and "The Family Man" -- have been lame-humored misfires. If there's a place for obsolete directors in my perfect world, maybe down the lane from the home for unnecessary actors, then he can go there.

Grade: C

Rated PG-13, scattered profanity, a little violence, some mild sexuality

1 hr., 40 min.

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