Even self-centered, coke-snorting sybarites going nowhere have stories to tell, but the three club-hopping members of this subspecies in Spanish helmer Alberto Rodriguez’s “After” offer little except examples of how not to live. Aggressively vapid — and exposing the director of hit “7 Virgins” as quite possibly less than advertised — this is acid noir with a flashy surface, likely to encounter difficulty getting past the rope of non-Spanish-speaking theatrical hot spots.
Although the film may be designed to appeal to hipsters while exposing the pitfalls of contempo behavior among adults in Seville, just as “7 Virgins” did for youth in the same city, it’s built on the increasingly tired device of the wind-back narrative. Thus, night-owls Julio (Guillermo Toledo), Manuel (Tristan Ulloa) and Ana (Blanca Romero) are shown pursuing a new high at every fresh party spot, then the tale periodically cranks back to catch up with where each came from — and later, where they end up after the night is over.
Manuel is a study in suburban angst. His son fears and distrusts him, and the family dog has gone missing. A close cousin to “Up in the Air’s” Ryan Bingham, Julio is a corporate-downsizing consultant who spends most of his time in hotels, lurching from boredom to distractions. Among character portraits that are mere pencil sketches compressed to fit into a two-hour window, the least of these belongs to Ana, whose life seems to consist of bedroom flings with a hot b.f. as well as sexual adventures with other young studs.
The early sense of middle-aged adults who want to act like crazy teens gives way to a dull moralism, just as the repetitive visual tropes (shots of the group sweatily kissing one another in a dance club, or jumping up and down in slow-mo) eventually give way to stylistic burnout. Pic runs out of ideas well before its midpoint, yet must somehow stumble through the night like its denizens toward a meaningless morning.
Rodriguez’s actors, particularly Toledo, do throw themselves into their roles. The prospect of playing hip urbanites in the throes of drug-fueled excess had to be tempting, but the only substance these characters possess are made evident in Toledo’s gradual breakdown, the growing fear that spreads across Ulloa’s face or statuesque Romero’s ability to flash degrees of anger or vulnerability.
High-sheen production values abound, from Alex Catalan’s electric cinematography to Pepe Dominguez del Olmo’s seemingly limitless supply of groovy sets, which could make Almodovar weep with envy. As he demonstrated in “7 Virgins,” Rodriguez’s way of roaming far and wide through the nooks and crannies of Seville reveals a true insider’s eye.
Repetitious music cues are a drag. For no clear reason, pic’s onscreen title is in English.