Friday 30 April 2021

Movie Review: The Morning After (1986)

A frivolous murder mystery and romance, The Morning After attempts an awkward mishmash of genres and never finds its footing.

Washed-up alcoholic actress Alex Sternbergen (Jane Fonda) wakes up in a stranger's bed and finds a dead man next to her, stabbed with a dagger. She phones her estranged husband Jackie Manero (Raul Julia) then flees the apartment in a panic. After a misadventure at the airport Alex bumps into retired and divorced police officer Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges). A romance develops between the two lonely people, and he tries to help her out of the mess she finds herself in.

Part Hitchcock light, part half-hearted exploration of alcoholism, loneliness and second chances, part ungainly romance with misplaced wisecracks, The Morning After is a full-on mess. Writer James Hicks switches tones with clumsy, aimless transitions, then allows his characters to meander through long stretches of nothingness interrupted by thickets of bland dialogue. Director Sidney Lumet infuses bursts of colour found in the less frilly Los Angeles neighbourhoods, but is otherwise far from rescuing the material.

The opening scene is promising enough, Alex confronted by a bloody bed and an expired creep. But very quickly the pacing unravels. Bad romantic comedy vibes take over as Alex demonstrates her limited acting skills at the airport, then initiates a curbside bumper car routine, before hopping into Turner's car in an it-only-happens-in-the-movies meet-cute. The tension of the opening mystery is lost and never recovered.

Jane Fonda overcompensates with a histrionics masterclass alternating between flimsy displays of frantic victim and depressed drunk. Alex's backstory of a never-made-it actress carries appeal, but Fonda cannot wrestle down the ditzy script and find a sympathetic person within. Jeff Bridges as Turner is more of a steady presence on the receiving end of Alex's gyrating moods, but he does precious little except tag along.

With the script only bothering to introduce three characters it is never difficult to guess who is up to no good, but wait! A fourth character makes an entrance in the final 10 minutes, with about one spoken line of dialogue, in a spectacularly fumbled attempt at a twist. 

Insipid beyond salvation, The Morning After should have just stayed in bed.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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