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Thong Thing

Salma's shorts are as good as it gets in this unwatchable caper.

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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. This, we can tell you with the certainty of George W. Bush, is Sunset's only attraction.

Otherwise, director Brett Ratner (of Rush Hour ilk), 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 the mess, this is what we come up with. Brosnan and Hayek are Max and Lola, a pair of charming, glamorous jewel thieves who, equipped with the latest high-tech gadgetry, pull off one last brilliant diamond heist in L.A. before retiring to 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 Misérables, or even The Fugitive. 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 can't resist; 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 huge beachfront hotel where the FBI agent stays.

Director and writers owe apologies to many, including Jules Dassin, who gave us the ultimate jewel heist movie, Topkapi; the makers of every buddy flick from Midnight Cowboy to Beverly Hills Cop; and any Hollywood film involving seduction. 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 make you spill your popcorn. (Brosnan looks good, but he's no Cary Grant, just as Hayek is no Grace Kelly.)

The extraneous subplots make no sense. But then, logic is not the strong suit in this jumbled wreck of a movie; neither are charm, thrill, romance, or comedy.

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