Judge Brett Cullum is still searching for the upside-down cruise ship in this Jane Fonda/Sidney Lumet '80s relic.
…can be murder.
Alex Sternberg (Jane Fonda, Monster-In-Law) wakes up hung over and next to a dead body. She worries that maybe, during a blackout, she actually stabbed a man. She runs, and tries to figure out what to do. She calls her hairdresser and ex-husband (Raul Julia, Eyes of Laura Mars), who suggests she call the cops and a good lawyer. But Alex doesn't want to do that, because she's a washed-up television actress with a history of violence while drunk. Meanwhile, the body won't stay put. The corpse keeps popping up around Alex, and she's not in a mood to play Weekend at Bernie's. She meets an ex-cop (Jeff Bridges, Seabiscuit) at the airport, who offers to help. There's got to be a way to survive The Morning After.
Sidney Lumet directed this movie, and right up front, on the excellent commentary featured in the extras of this disc, he labels the film a melodrama. Jane Fonda brought him the script years before they shot it—she was the one who wanted to do it. Lumet wanted to work with Fonda, because her father had given him his first big break, and because he regards her as one as the great actresses in America. He was a little wary, though, because the film is an LA movie through and through. He wasn't familiar with the city back in 1986 when they shot the production. What's amazing is that he caught a look and a sense of Los Angeles that hadn't really been seen a lot in films—the seedier industrial side. In the film, LA looks desolate, without many people. It also looks very much like 1986, down to the big hair, big sunglasses, and leg warmers. He paints the entire picture in the ultimate '80s color scheme—pastels.
The Morning After isn't a bad movie, but it's certainly not a great film, either. You would think that with Jane Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Raul Julia, and Sidney Lumet teaming up, it would be a knockout. Well, it isn't. It's a middle-of-the-road murder mystery without enough viable suspects to be very hard to figure out. The movie reminds me a lot of Eyes of Laura Mars—big, splashy murder movie that has a stellar cast, handsome production values, and a weak script. Fonda certainly nails her part, and the rest of the cast does fine work as well. Jeff Bridges and Raul Julia are game and up for the challenge, but, alas, don't have too much to do for most of the movie. They act concerned when they have to, and creepy when it's called for. The crux of the mystery hinges on the two male supporting characters, since we basically have to figure out who's more trustworthy. Would you trust the ex-cop with a complete collection of Nancy Drew mysteries, or a hairdresser with social climbing aspirations?
Part of the fun of watching The Morning After are the cameos that pop up throughout the picture. Comedian Bruce Villanch (The Ice Pirates) shows up as a bartender, and Kathy Bates (Misery) plays a nosy neighbor. Richard Foronjy (a Lumet veteran who started with Serpico) plays a Jewish cop trying to solve the mystery. Even he doesn't have a hard time figuring it out. Fonda's character seems to know only gay guys and drag queens, and there are some funny scenes with her turning to the gay community for help. Who else would provide help for a washed-up alcoholic actress on the run from the law but a kind-hearted drag queen? Trust me—if Julie Newmar was running from the cops, it's where she would go.
The DVD for this release is competent, if unimpressive—which suits the film fine. There's a nice widescreen transfer that seems a little washed out with some grain. The colors look nice, and the film appears to be in good shape after almost twenty years. The soundtrack is the original mono mix. A widescreen trailer accompanies the feature, and it's in slightly worse condition than the feature proper. There is a spry, fun commentary from Sidney Lumet who frankly discusses what he remembers about the filming. He takes long pauses, but when he does speak it's always insightful and interesting. Lumet is well-spoken, and humble about what he achieved with The Morning After.
The main reason for revisiting this film would be to see Jane Fonda just before she retired from the movie business. It's certainly her movie, and Lumet's camera loves her. She elevates the routine melodrama, and makes it better than it should be. Her chemistry with Jeff Bridges is amazing. Had the movie concentrated on their love affair it would have been an exceptional project, but the lame murder mystery drags everything down to a silly camp level. The red herrings don't work, and the film only holds together as a character study of two people coming together under dire circumstances. Lumet handles the dialogue scenes well—for a thriller, it's odd to see the scenes where characters talk being the most exciting.
Enjoy The Morning After for what it is: a murderous melodrama with a strong cast. It's like watching Olivier doing children's theatre, but at least it's entertaining. It's well-lit, well-acted fluff. And as far as DVD releases go, I'm thankful for the chance to hear Lumet discuss anything for an hour and a half. It's a breezy film with a lot of great people involved. It raises the eternal question of Hollywood—why do big talent people commit to such mediocre projects? It happens all the time, and the truth is this: shooting low feels safe. There is no risk; and if Hollywood loves anything, it's a sure thing. And silly murder mysteries are pretty much can't miss affairs.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary with Director Sidney Lumet
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