There’s no denying how great a director Martin Scorsese is. After Hours feels more like one of his sleeper hits, forgotten about by the populous but solidified in the mind of his ardent cult fans. Unfortunately, some films are best left forgotten, and this ill-timed 1985 comedy is one such film. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but by no means his best work, After Hours provides us a strange middle ground that follows one man’s tumultuous night on the town.
Films that degrade rapidly in their understanding of events are a lot of fun. We’re very much left in the dark on a variety of topics, and only have an unreliable leading man to keep us abreast of the situations at hand. Griffin Dunne plays Paul Hackett, a man that meets a woman at a café and spirals from there. It’s a film where, unfortunately, the premise is funnier than the action itself. With a climax involving an angry mob looking for a murderer that looks exactly like Hackett, getting chased by an ice cream van into a German mob disco, it doesn’t land as well as it should. A sad shame since that’s an incredible premise to work with.
If anything, it seems like Scorsese has thrown as many incredibly zany ideas at the wall to see what sticks. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but the issue is that the narrative keeps lurching backwards and forwards, unable to keep up with the tenacity of Hackett. Dunne’s performance is great, so at least we’re not stuck with a boring protagonist as well as a flittering and unfunny story. He provides the same amount of confusion as I did when watching this, unsure of what is going on around him. His broken interactions with the unique individuals that litter the streets are rather well rounded, focusing in on the idea that it’s merely the wrong place at the wrong time rather than anything else affecting his evening.
Scorsese doesn’t have much of a message or voice in this one, making for a more light-hearted romp through the streets of New York. Hackett’s frustrations with his evening grow stronger, and as that builds up the camerawork becomes more frantic and looser. Again, it’s the fault of simply not being funny enough.
After Hours has its feverishly die-hard fans, and rightly so, but there’s something about it here that simply doesn’t work. The comedy is the main issue, or at least the lack of it is. Some strong enough direction and a decent leading performance from Griffin Dunne is just about enough to make this an enjoyable, if not excruciatingly forgettable time.