Originally Reviewed on 8/9/2011
One strange Christmas, approximately five years ago, my brother scraped together some cash from his part time supermarket job and bought me a present that would keep on giving. The gift contained a DVD box set entitled “The Martin Scorsese Collection” and like many discount collections of this ilk, packaged two well known films with three obscurities. While I was thrilled that I now owned a better transfer of Goodfellas and was euphoric it threw in the slightly better Mean Streets, the other three films were complete mysteries to me at the time. Even though one of those movies, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, was surprisingly good, the other two remained encased in shrink wrap, forgotten and forlorn in favor of the more popular movies therein. Unwatched and collecting dust, the final two films in the collection became footnotes in my movie-going mind, usurped by more modern Scorsese classics. The first of these films is Who’s That Knocking On My Door and the second, unearthed exclusively for this Review My Collection series, is the dark comedy After Hours, a barely satisfying footnote in the storied career of the master filmmaker.
Griffin Dune stars as Paul Hackett, an Upper East Side computer consultant who leads a staid existence: he consults Bronson Pinchot on how to use a mid 80’s computer terminal, reads Henry Miller and lives in an orderly New York apartment. However, after meeting a quirky but fascinating girl in a New York diner and calling her that evening, Hackett kicks off a series of events that takes him through a very strange night in the City That Never Sleeps. From the first frame, one thing is readily apparent: After Hours is clearly a Martin Scorsese joint. The film is peppered with Scorsese’s signature cinematography, full of quick pans, jolting zooms and meticulous pacing, all hallmarks of a director at the height of his craft. Nobody can deny Scorsese’s aptitude behind the camera and After Hours highlights that ability in spades. Yet another love letter to the city that Scorsese called home, After Hours serves as a time capsule to a New York that simply doesn’t exist anymore, highlighting all the madcap grittiness, weirdness and danger of that place and time. As a current resident of Manhattan, I often wonder how it would have been living here two decades ago and the best Scorsese movies give me a little taste of the New York gone by.
Unfortunately for the film, nostalgia and film techniques can only go so far without a competent story to keep it afloat and this is where After Hours takes a turn for the bad. Labeled a “dark comedy”, the movie heaps on the satire without ever winking, creating an experience that’s more unsettling than humorous. Just like the guy you knew in college that thought Holocaust jokes were funny, After Hours wants to be darkly comic without having an inkling of what the term actually means. People get robbed, talk blandly about rape experiences and attempt suicide, all played for a chuckle that just isn’t there. It’s not that the performances are bad: Dune plays the hapless fella just trying to get home with sincerity, Rosanna Arquette is at her weirdly comic best as the diner girl and bit parts from Catherine O’Hara, Teri Garr and even Cheech and Chong serve their comedic purpose. Problem is, the comedy just isn’t there. Although Scorsese was able to find that comedic balance in his previous film, The King Of Comedy, that movie had the strength of a more interesting story, likable characters and, oh yeah, some guy named Robert DeNiro. After Hours, on the other hand, features a cast of misfits and degenerates, all trying way too hard for your cautious laughter. Sure the movie has its moments, but just as you think Hackett is about to come across a person somewhat normal, the shtick ramps back up, hurling you headlong into the next out of place encounter. The tale is scattershot and for the most part humorless.
After Hours, in a word, just isn’t funny. Perhaps this was considered a biting farce in 1985, which would explain the mind boggling 92% Fresh rating it currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes, but to me it just fell flat on nearly every level. Well constructed and decently directed, After Hours fails at its primary goal of providing some cringe inducing laughs in the midst of a wild New York night. Although I’ll always love viewing NYC through the eyes of a master, good technique only goes so far. Even though the movie doesn’t provide much in the way of laughter, it’s still worth a watch for the hardcore Scorsese fan, featuring some top notch camerawork and direction. Now all I have to do is give my brother a ring and let him know I finally watched his gift from all those years ago. And, oh yeah, I’m saving that final box set installment for Review My Collection #197.
Score – 60%