Is there any phrase in the English language more giddily enticing than “a nude Ricci”? The promise of Riccian nudity is a compelling force (as in, I was just compelled to blow a load in my pants), but personal preference must also be a factor. Do you like your topless Christina Ricci served up Black Snake Moan-style, all nubile and smoking hot, totally ready to jump on some redneck boy? Or do you prefer the pasty, corpse-lookin’ Ricci of After.Life, always despondent and frequently splayed out nude on a bare white slab or perhaps underneath (gag!) boyfriend Justin Long? Maybe one day Ricci’s resume will include a nude scene for every male demographic in existence, but for now the hillbillies and necrophiliacs will just have to do.
In After.Life, Ricci does her usual wide-eyed, ethereal bit as a schoolteacher stuck in a listless marriage to lawyer Justin Long. After a car accident that must have been too expensive to make it on screen, Ricci wakes up on a slab in a funeral home, with funeral director Liam Neeson preparing her body for burial. A panicked Ricci insists that she’s not dead, but Neeson informs her otherwise. He claims to have the ability to speak to souls stuck between this life and the next one; it’s his job to make sure that Ricci is able to cope with her own death prior to her burial.
A plodding reflection on mortality disguised as a psychological thriller (at least until it throws off its sheep’s clothing in a final, somewhat redeeming twist), After.Life strains for artificial suspense with manipulative sound cues and obnoxious soundtrack swells, but it all smacks of so much horror-posing bullshit. Neeson is never threatening, and Ricci says she can’t feel any pain, even as he prepares her body for burial. There’s no tension without a genuine threat.
As Ricci argues endlessly with Neeson about her own demise, a couple of negligible subplots hog a bunch of screen time. Justin Long grieves strenuously enough to cement his status as Hollywood’s bottom bitch, while weird kid Jack is a staring, understandably bullied 11-year-old student who thinks he can communicate with the dead like Liam Neeson. But hey, there’s only one Liam Neeson. In any case, it feels like padding.
Which (somehow) brings me back to naked Ricci. There’s no arguing that fans get an eyeful with After.Life. Ricci appears naked while chatting up Liam Neeson, naked while posing seductively on an embalming table, naked while talking to Neeson a little more, naked while tearing her own heart out in a dream sequence, and then naked again while talking to Neeson. Naked, naked, naked. Does that simple fact alone make After.Life worth watching? Perhaps, but it all comes down to your own personal stance on all things Ricci. I, for one, am a proud convert. Which is the only reason this movie earns three skulls.
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