Do you have days when nothing goes right? when you feel disoriented, when everything around you is strange and you seem to be living in a nightmare from which you can’t wake up?
If you live in New York, these feelings come with the territory, and that’s the subject of After Hours, a black comedy by Martin Scorsese that is so bizarre and loopy it defies ordinary description.
After Hours is the ultimate New York nightmare of the Eighties. I guess you could call it a black comedy. It is very black indeed, though rarely funny.
Mostly it’s interesting because it signals a radical departure for director Scorsese, who usually puts his fist where his camera should be.
It’s an exaggerated study of what happens when an uptown New Yorker finds himself in the wrong downtown neighbourhood on a rainy night with only 97 cents in his pocket and can’t get home.
For Paul Hackett, a dull yuppie nerd who teaches people in offices how to use word processors, the trip from East 91st Street to the bowels of Soho turns into a voyage to an alien planet.
Paul’s nightmare adventure begins (like many things do in New York on rainy nights) with a chance encounter in a coffee shop. Paul is sitting there, reading Henry Miller, when he meets a pretty wacko who tells him where he can buy a far-out plaster-of-paris bagel-and-cream cheese paperweight.
Like most yuppie squares, Paul’s got nothing better to do, so he follows this peculiar Alice down the rabbit hole to a loft in Soho. Instead of a nice sexy adventure in a new environment, the gullible dope finds himself trapped in a hostile element of all-night decadence, surrounded by weirdoes who make the Mad Hatter’s tea party look like a needlepoint lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design.
First, there’s Rosanna Arquette as the neurotic girl who lures Paul to the hell that lies below Houston Street.
After describing a six-hour rape, she confides that she broke off her marriage because her husband yelled “Surrender, Dorothy!” every time they had sex. This girl also collects first-aid manuals for burn victims . . .
Then there’s her kinky roommate (Linda Fiorentino), who sculpts nude men out of paste and real twenty-dollar bills, wanders around the loft topless and collects sadists who tie her to the furniture, bound and gagged like her own sculptures.
This is the wrong kind of encounter session, even for a displaced person like Paul, but every time he tries to haul it back uptown to the safety of bag ladies and Charivari boutiques, the film turns into another vignette that delays action and pads out the running time.
Before the nightmare ends, Paul has culture-clashed with two burglars (Cheech and Chong), a morose bartender (John Heard) whose girl has just committed suicide, a demented waitress (Teri Garr) who invites him up for a TV dinner, a lonely homosexual (Robert Plunket) who chooses Paul for his first gay experience, and a mob of murderous punk vigilantes wearing Mohawk haircuts whose gang leader is a girl who drives an ice cream truck.
Why Paul doesn’t call a friend with his 97 cents to come downtown and rescue him is a blazing question that plagues you throughout, but common sense is not one of the strong points in a Martin Scorsese film. Maybe the point he’s making is that yuppies have no friends!
This is not a movie, it’s a series of classroom exercises from a zoned-out acting school that specialises in surrealism for fun and profit.
The plot is similar to Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), but it has no attitude. Scorsese’s sledgehammer style robs the oddball material, written by Joseph Minion, of any real humour.
The pivotal role of Paul is nicely played by Griffin Dunne, a gifted young actor with an expression of perpetual confusion, but since he has been directed to react instead of act, there isn’t much in the performance a sane audience can identify with.
Thomas ‘Tom’ Schorr