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HALF A CARAT
PROMISING STUDY OF RETIRED THIEF IS DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

AFTER THE SUNSET ** 1/2

STARRING: Pierce Brosnan, Woody Harrelson, Salma Hayek, Don Cheadle, Naomie Harris

DIRECTOR: Brett Ratner

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for sexuality, violence, language

THE LOWDOWN: A master jewel thief facing retirement is tailed by an FBI agent convinced he'll attempt one last heist.

It started out very promisingly.

The sophisticated technology employed by brilliant jewel thief Max Burdett (Pierce Brosnan) looked to be at least as entertaining as that of Brosnan's ingenious art thief in "The Thomas Crown Affair." Paul Zbyszewski's screenplay displayed some sharp writing, especially the crisply funny lines delivered with characteristic dryness by Brosnan.

Brosnan and Salma Hayek (Lola) made a very sexy and sensuous couple and faced the interesting challenge of what to do with themselves after retirement from a life of crime. A developing friendship between Max and the not-so-brilliant FBI agent who had been pursuing him for seven years, Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson), seemed likely to lead to amusing and touching buddy scenes, especially with "Rush Hour" director Brett Ratner at the helm.

And Ratner had again enlisted the services of superb cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who shot "Red Dragon" and "The Family Man" for him.

Spinotti's gorgeous photography was the only thing that lived up to its promise. He had a perfect subject: the idyllic island in the Bahamas to which Max and Lola have retired after one last diamond heist.

Stan, who was in charge of protecting that diamond, hasn't given up, though. Having noticed that a cruise ship displaying the third of the famed Napoleon diamonds just so happens to be sailing near the crime couple's retirement home, Stan has followed them there.

Once the three main characters are settled into paradise, the film seems to lose it all, going off in numerous directions: You've got Max and Lola's relationship strained by his restlessness; Max being forced into partnership with the island's American gangster (Don Cheadle, falling terribly flat in what could have been a colorful character role); Stan pairing professionally and otherwise with island cop Naomie Harris, whose resentful ex-husband is also a cop; Stan pursuing Max; Stan and Max developing a friendship; and, of course, the cruise ship sailing into town.

The tone is lowered considerably when Max and Stan's friendship is, ridiculously, misinterpreted, and the film can't seem to recover after that.

As for Hayek, you'd think that, after showing real ambition (if not total success) with "Frida," she'd do something more than just another turn as eye candy. At least Brosnan was half-naked a lot, too, adding a little gender (and age) equality to the sex symbol equation. And his acting and charisma are as strong as usual.

The inevitable heist scene is, oddly enough, nothing special. All I can say about the diamond is that, like the audience, it was robbed.

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