An uneven oddity from director Martin Scorsese, After Hours never quite generates the comic flow its story needs. Joseph Minion’s script tells the darkly funny tale of an average guy’s misadventures when he tries to run with the after-hours crowd, but in execution the film is at turns limp and insistent. It doesn’t have the effortless command of the material that a great comedy needs.
A fairly bland Griffin Dunne plays Paul Hackett, an office drone leading a quiet, lonely life in Manhattan. While eating alone at a coffee shop one night, Paul meets Marcy (an amusingly daffy Rosanna Arquette), who invites him to her SoHo loft. Things spiral out of control from there, as Paul also runs into Marcy’s “sculptress” roommate (Linda Fiorentino), an easily angered bartender (John Heard) and an instantly possessive cocktail waitress (Teri Garr), among others. Increasingly unnerved – but out of cash and with no one to call – Paul bounces around SoHo as if he were stuck in a pinball machine, with no way of getting home.
There’s humor in the structure, especially once Paul’s actions begin to follow a self-fulfilling pattern. After encountering a stranger who offers to help, Paul soon discovers that they’re wackier than the one he just left. So he lies about ducking out for a bit and escapes, only to run into someone he’d tangled with before.
This evasive tactic comes back to haunt him in the climax, when the roles are reversed and he’s the one who is cruelly abandoned. Yet just when the movie seems about to delve into comic horror, it instead wraps things up with an obvious and drawn-out visual gag. After Hours, like Scorsese’s much later The Wolf of Wall Street, mistakes comedic volume for genuine humor. It’s loud, but not quite in tune.