Richard Linklater took twelve years to make “Boyhood” and produced a masterpiece. Thomas Farone lavished eight on “Aftermath,” and most definitely hasn’t. The crime melodrama, which its makers have dubbed a “black comedy thriller,” has a few oddball moments but is never funny, and it certainly isn’t thrilling.
To be fair, the long gestation period for the movie wasn’t intentional; it resulted from a real-life tragedy, the death of one of its stars, Chris Penn, during filming in 2006. To complicate matters further, another cast member, Leo Burmester, died in 2007. That resulted in reshoots and re-editing that have dragged on until now. Sad to say, all the effort wasn’t worth it.
Anthony Michael Hall stars as Tom Fiorini, a successful housing developer in upstate New York whose beautiful wife Rebecca (Elisabeth Rohm) is pregnant with their first child. A hard-driving fellow who’s tough on his workers, he pressures his foreman Matt (Jamie Harrold) to keep on schedule, which leads Matt in turn to put the heat of ex-con Tony (Penn), his chief framer, to speed things up. Tony, a big man with a violent streak whose wife Liz (Kent King) is also pregnant and whose high-strung cousin Eric (Frank Whaley) is a rather unproductive member of the crew, responds by attacking Matt, who promptly disappears, leaving his wife Samantha (Lily Rabe) searching for answers.
Concerned that Tony may have killed Matt, Fiorini fires him but fears that the guy will retaliate. So he not only enlists the help of the local sheriff (Burmester) to harass the guy, but buys a gun from local goombah (Tony Danza), whom he also pays to put pressure on Tony. The result is very different from what Tom was hoping for, and leads him to take more drastic action himself, especially when Tony uses his influence to deal with Danza’s preening hitman and his minions.
One can sympathize with Farone for wanting to cobble a finished product from whatever material he’d shot before Penn’s death (perhaps Hall, who’s listed as one of the producers, was anxious to see things through as well), but his effort only results in messiness—the picture is divided up into chapters which are then subdivided into days, but the chronology is sporadic, and the title cards are presented against a backdrop of comic-book panels that seem to have reference to nothing at all. The structure is further complicated by narration, which begins with a “Sunset Boulevard” sequence before the movie lurches into what might be termed bargain-basement Tarantino mode—a sequence that tells you how things are going to turn out at the very beginning. A closing twist about Matt’s fate—which strains for irony—isn’t very surprising, either.
The performances are nothing special. Hall does a decent enough job, but his character’s motives are ever especially clear, while Danza’s sterotype seems to come from an entirely different movie altogether and Whaley just reverts to the space-out hophead routine we’ve witnessed from him before. The most interesting turn is certainly Penn’s, just because it’s a swansong. By 2006 the actor had put on so much weight that he puts Victor Buono to shame, and he doesn’t look at all well. (His brother Sean attributed his death to his bulk.) He handles most of the dialogue well enough (much of it in close-up), but when movement is required—as in his scene with Danza—he seems to have some serious trouble. The end result, unhappily, is that his presence here appeals more to morbid curiosity than to any desire to celebrate a life cut sadly short. Technically the picture is, apart from its rather clumsy construction, mediocre, though it’s difficult to ascribe the murkiness of much of the camerawork to anybody in particular, since Scott Beardslee is listed as cinematographer along with Farone, who presumably took care of the reshoots himself.
The opening credits of “Aftermath” are printed in weird letters of varied shapes and sizes that make the names very difficult to decipher. Given the way the movie’s turned out, that might be considered a blessing.