Imagine if you will that you've been mistaken for the person responsible for a string of thefts, that you are a long cab ride away from home, have no money, and you are being pursued by a posse escorted by an ice cream truck with all its bells and lights on.
One of the most underrated and forgotten movies of all times, After Hours is a nightmarish dark comedy. The real undertow of the movie is the realization of one of our greatest fears. If you step out of your element, trying to escape for one evening from your boring and predictable life, who is to say that untold doom will not befall you? Might as well stay home and stare at the walls until it all finally ends.
Griffin Dunne is Paul Hackett, a very white and very straight-laced lonely guy with a boring job and the most bleak looking New York apartment you might ever see. After deciding to go out to a coffee shop he sees Marcy, played by Rosanna Arquette. She's more than a little quirky, but gives Paul her phone number and his continued boredom drives him to call her. She tells him to come to her apartment in Soho, even though it is now quite late, and against Paul's better judgment he goes. This might be nothing for some people, but for Paul this is similar to peeling your skin off just to see what it feels like.
The nightmare is fully realized. Everything that could happen pretty much happens to Paul. The first sign that he has descended into a nightmare is the sight of his twenty dollar bill, the only money he has, flying out the window on his cab ride to Soho. Once he realizes that there is something very wrong with Marcy (she has a number of books about severe skin burns on the floor with graphic photographs, but that is only part of the story), he escapes and tries to go home. He does have some change for the subway, but it isn't enough, because tonight the fares have been increased. Enter Teri Garr as a waitress who has decided Paul is the one to help her escape from her "horrible job." She really digs The Monkees, has a ring of mousetraps set up around her bed and is very concerned about whether or not Paul likes her beehive hairdo. Oh, she can also make free photocopies.
The backgrounds and incidental humor are well placed. One of the most memorable scenes involves Paul and two leather clad gentlemen discussing what can be said to someone when they have just found out their girlfriend has killed herself. Just pay attention to the two gentlemen throughout the scene and you'll understand the value of filling the background action as well as the foreground action. Director Martin Scorsese has always been a genius in this regard.
See the world "after hours" when normal people retreat to the quiet protection of their homes and a new world comes out of the shadows. See what happens when you desperately need help and come upon a mild mannered man in the street. He offers to help you, but is quick to add "there are certain things I will not do." You can't even make a phone call.
This film is dark comedy at its disturbing best, playing itself out like a chinese puzzle that needs all the pieces to fit together and then unravel once more.
Don't worry about Paul Hackett. He actually gets to work early the following morning. Stay home on school nights, kids.
"Is that all there is to a fire?"