Review: 'Afterglow' lacks spark
December 26, 1997
Web posted at: 2:06 p.m. EST (1906 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- The only thing amusing about the new Alan Rudolph
film "Afterglow" is that its news release refers to it as
I guess the movie is supposed to be a droll take on the
battle of the sexes, with an occasional dramatic interlude,
but the stagy and sometimes downright lousy dialogue sinks
any possibility of getting wrapped up in the tired narrative.
A not-particularly-inspired Nick Nolte plays Lucky, a
Montreal-based plumber who enjoys servicing more than kitchen
plumbing for his female customers. His wife, Phyllis (Julie
Christie), is a beautiful-but-wasted former B-movie actress
who hasn't slept with Lucky in years and turns a blind eye to
his relentless womanizing.
She spends most of her free time sitting around the house
watching her old movies, which look like Roger Corman costume
quickies from the early '60s. When they're together, Phyllis
and Lucky like to have stilted discussions about death and
the inexorable loss of hope that can only arise from learning
the same screenplay.
The other couple
Meanwhile, on the fancy side of the tracks, we're introduced
to Marianne and Jeffrey (Lara Flynn Boyle and Jonny Lee
Miller), a young married couple who live in the ugliest
building I've ever seen outside of the bunker where Hitler
Jeffrey is an arrogant, straight-arrow businessman who
evidently can't be bothered to move facial muscles or develop
a taste for sex with his beautiful wife. That's too bad,
because Marianne, a flitty little thing, wants nothing more
than to have a baby with her husband. Considering his
demeanor, though, she'd be wiser to coax him into a
vasectomy. Or a personality transplant.
Boyle's cute little wisp of a body and paper-thin voice
practically render her invisible when she isn't dolled-up and
trying to seduce someone (at which point you're able to
forgive her pretty much anything), but she's got the
unbridled charisma of Rita Hayworth compared to Miller.
Miller was fine, if not exactly memorable, as Sick Boy in
last year's "Trainspotting," but this time around he's
virtually the poster boy for awfulitis.
I suppose it's the result of a misconceived performance
rather than sheer lack of talent, but line readings don't
come any lamer than Miller's affectless monotone in
Besides, Miller's character Jeffrey is so misogynistic and
uninspired, it'd be hard to imagine a woman wanting to
perform a Heimlich maneuver on him, much less conceive his
child. This is a thinly written character, thinly performed.
Between Miller and Boyle, half the movie seems to be cast
Dumb and dumber
It's not too hard to guess that Lucky will end up doing some
work on the unhappy couple's home, and Marianne will soon be
smooching him in the tub while her less affectionate hubby
Jeffrey is at the office.
This is supposed to be a big deal, but considering Lucky's
wife's relative comfort with his lax attitude toward
fidelity, and Marianne's virtual slug of a husband, it's hard
to give a damn about any of it.
It also doesn't help that the conversations between Lucky and
Marianne are wince-inducing. Lucky lays on the har-dee-har-
har double entendres like he's channeling Mr. Roper, and
Marianne is just plain old dumb as a meatloaf. You feel like
grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking some sense into
her, even when she's buck naked.
Christie as Phyllis eventually follows her husband Lucky to a
hotel bar, where she watches from the corner as he and
Marianne kiss and flirt.
As Lucky wouldn't have it, she manages to be seated right
next to Marianne's suspicious husband, who's somehow noticed
that his wife has written the hotel's name in BIG RED LETTERS
on the kitchen calendar. Jeffrey's there to catch her in the
act ... which would be a whole lot easier if he were willing
to perform the act himself.
Christie still a stellar actress
So now Jeffrey and Phyllis start getting hot and heavy.
As contrived as the script is, however, Rudolph still can't
obscure the fact that Christie is a great, great actress.
This woman should be getting better (and a lot more) roles
than she's getting, regardless of Hollywood's obsession with
the idea that Sharon Stone is the be-all-and-end-all of
"mature" female sexuality.
At age 56, Christie is still gorgeous, casually stylish, and
can act circles around women half her age.
When I was a kid, we had a grizzled school bus driver who
could (quite impressively) crush wayward honey bees with his
bare thumb. Christie is such a fully developed, knowing,
intelligent woman, I couldn't help thinking that her
character could easily do the same thing to Boyle's
That Lucky has trouble recognizing what he has in his own
bedroom is not only silly, it's
I can't say that I'm glad I saw this movie. I am glad,
however, to be reminded that there are still actresses like
Christie lurking among the swarms of cookie-cutter honey bees
out there. Crush 'em, Julie! Crush 'em!
"Afterglow" contains the usual brief nudity, profanity and
mature situations. It's definitely not for the kiddies, but
Boyle and Miller's performances as Marianne and Jeffrey are
probably the most disturbing part of the movie. Rated R.