Monday, October 3, 2011
I never walk out on movies. I don't pause the Roku and just head for bed, never to return. Don't eject the DVD midway through and replace it with something else. Like any bona fide movie addict, I have to see it through to the end. Even the bitter end. Who knows ... maybe the final scene will contain some unexpected turn or thoughtful insight that makes it worth my time. And so I watch. But every now and then a movie like After.Life comes along that makes me question this obsessive-compulsive behavior.
About halfway through After.Life, I realized I just wanted it to end. I no longer cared if Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci) was really dead or alive. I wasn't curious whether mortuary owner Eliot Deacon [Liam Neeson] really could talk to the dead. I certainly didn't care if Taylor's boyfriend, Paul Coleman (Justin Long), would stop crying and decide that she needed rescuing. It became obvious that I would have no reward at the end, because director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo was going to try to have it both ways, propelling an implausible plot toward a ludicrous ending.
The setup occurs in just a few minutes early in the movie as we meet Anna Taylor, a depressed young school teacher who has a fight with her boyfriend, speeds off in her car, has an accident, and wakes up in the mortuary. Undertaker Eliot Deacon tries to convince her, without much success, that she's dead and must let go of her mortal life so that she can be at peace for her funeral a few days hence. Among all the ham-handed clues that the director strews along the way — the fact that Anna is still breathing, that she can trash the place by tossing over supply cabinets, and that Deacon has to give her injections to "relax her muscles" — there's no clue as to how the authorities could have delivered a live woman to the undertaker in the first place.
Neeson should be more charismatic as the mortician who claims he's trying to help the dead woman admit what she really wanted — but wouldn't pursue — in life. Ricci should eventually become just a little bit more sympathetic as the hour for her internment draws closer. But there's no backstory for either character, and no progression of emotions. The story is as lifeless and cold as the cadavers that occasionally share the prep room with Anna. Why would you care whether this depressed young woman and her sniveling boyfriend ever get another chance?
You're welcome to watch this one, as I did, through to the bitter end. But your time will be better spent ejecting this one and trying out something else.
Yes, yes, I did notice the references to paralyzing drugs, the little boy's warning about the brakes, and how similar Deacon's van looks to the one in the first crash scene. Honestly, that level of contrivance is more insulting than clever.