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What the Hayek?

Mindless After the Sunset is only half-baked.

The witless inanity of After the Sunset is so numbing that the sole reason for any living creature to sit through it -- man, woman or household pet -- is to marvel at the speed and variety of actress Salma Hayek's costume changes. After an opening sequence in Los Angeles, this failed jewel-caper comedy takes up residence on a sun-splashed resort island in the Caribbean, which provides its makers an excuse to outfit the beautiful and ideally constructed Ms. Hayek in a relentless succession of thongs, sarongs, diaphanous cocktail frocks and all-but-nonexistent bathing suits that, if we don't miss our guess, have been selected to arouse corporal envy in female viewers and sheer lust among men. This, we can tell you with the certainty of George W. Bush, is Sunset's only attraction.

Otherwise, director Brett Ratner (who bestowed upon us the Rush Hour movies), his two baffled screenwriters, Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg (the rewrite man here) and the high-paid stars (who include dashing Pierce Brosnan and a shlumpier-than-usual Woody Harrelson) find themselves mired in an ill-written movie that has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. While trying to be all things to all genres, it reduces each of them to insignificance.

In untangling a mess, this is what we come up with: Brosnan and Hayek are a pair of charming, glamorous jewel thieves, Max and Lola, who, equipped with the latest high-tech gadgetry, pull off one last brilliant diamond heist in L.A. before retiring to leisure in the tropics. Harrelson is the dogged, none-too-bright FBI agent, Stanley Lloyd, who's been chasing them for seven years, à la Detective Javert. But the cat-and-mouse game Max and Stanley play has complications: Along with pursuit, they like being buddies. Max showers Stanley with galling gifts; Stanley rubs sunscreen on Max's back -- something you won't find in Les Miserables, or even The Fugitive. They even wind up in the same bed. Meanwhile, Max and Lola have another problem. He's a driven egotist addicted to theft, so when one last diamond about the size of a kaiser roll shows up on a cruise ship visiting their retirement paradise, he cannot resist the temptation; all she wants to do is put on a pair of shorts too small for the average third-grader and hammer out a new sundeck. Naturally, the oft-frustrated FBI man has uncovered his old nemeses and, while acquiring a pretty good tan himself, he's keeping a wary eye on them. The whole thing unfolds amid a torrent of idiotic dialogue and glossy travelogue, dutifully recorded by cinematographer Dante Spinotti. Much of the movie looks like an elaborate TV spot for the gargantuan beachfront hotel where the FBI agent is staying: The Bahamian tourist board should be well pleased by that, as well as by the movie's day trip to a local music fest. Get that travel agent on the phone; Salma Hayek simmered here.

This director and these writers owe apologies to many, including Jules Dassin, who gave us the ultimate jewel-heist movie, Topkapi, in 1964; the makers of every buddy flick from Midnight Cowboy to Beverly Hills Cop; and any movie in Hollywood's long history involving any sort of seduction. As it is, the Ratner Pack here acknowledges just one of its many "sources," and the casual mention of Hitchcock's beguiling comic thriller To Catch a Thief on the same screen with this drivel is enough to spill your popcorn. Sporting three days' worth of carefree vacation stubble and his own closetful of tropical resort-wear, Brosnan looks as good as always (albeit without the James Bond gleam we've become so used to), but he's no Cary Grant, just as Hayek is no Grace Kelly. As for the sly extravagance of Hitchock's comedy, Zbyszewski and Rosenberg can but dream. They go in for jokes about corny American tourists and the tedium of eating lobster every night.

Reportorial duty demands a mention of extraneous subplots: Don Cheadle pops in as a transplanted American gangster who has his own reasons for wanting the big diamond on the cruise ship; lovely Naomie Harris has a turn as Sophie, the local cop who teams up with Harrelson's FBI and winds up in his arms in the bargain. This stuff makes no more sense than the bewildering sequence in which Max, Lola and Stanley all go nighttime scuba diving and Max finds time to steal the gem and get back to his wetsuit mates before they even know he's gone. Logic is not the strong point in this jumbled wreck of a movie, but then neither are charm, thrill, romance or comedy. By the time the Brosnan character is reformed at last and declares to his ladylove "From this moment on, you are my only jewel," we've had it up to here with lobster, love, sunshine and diamonds. It remains only to ogle Hayek's astonishing curves one last time and then head for the exit.

 
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