Both the movie and this review assume that you’ve seen After. If not, you’ll have to double back. Or don’t. In fact, I can think of many ways to better spend 107 minutes of your time: You could listen to Kind of Blue twice. You could begin work on a butter sculpture of Dwight Eisenhower. You could sit in your driveway, chug beers, and throw the empties at neighbor kids as they bike past.
Anyway, Collide picks up sometime after the first film and takes us back to our delightfully atrocious couple. Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), still stung from his bust-up with Tessa (Josephine Langford), wallows and whines like the preeminent douchebag he is. You know it’s serious when he drinks hooch straight from the bottle and mouths off to hobos on the street.
Meanwhile, Tessa begins to move on with her life. She gets a job at a hoity-toity publishing company, replete with a dickhead boss (Charlie Weber) and a hunky fellow intern named Trevor (Dylan Sprouse). The movie teases us with a few hints that Tessa is about to find a good groove in life. She blows off text messages from the toxic, annoying Hardin. The boss starts to reward Tessa’s good work, and the hunky dude actually treats her like a human being. At this point, it’s looking like maybe…just maybe the filmmakers are gonna give Tessa a redemptive arc and reward us for slogging through the previous film.
Alas, nope. It seems that Hardin is a miserable boulder, and Tessa is doomed to push him up a hill over and over. As with After, Hardin is a jealous, possessive stalker-creep who belittles Tessa and bullies any other dude who tries to talk to her. And, once again, Tessa consistently rewards his behavior by showering him with kindness and unlimited rolls in the hay. Trevor calls it correctly: Hardin isn’t a bad boy. He’s a pitiful loser. As long as they stay together, Hardin will continue to drag her down and draw out her ugliest traits–like poison from a wound. But, in the script’s cockeyed logic, we’re supposed to boo and hiss at Trevor for even suggesting that these star-crossed dipshits aren’t meant to be.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about that script. Co-written by Anna Todd (and based on her hit book series), Collided seems to want it both ways: On one hand, the film cranks up the raunchiness, resulting in love scenes that are steamier, sweatier, and yet somehow even more lifeless and boring. On the other, the story leans hard into the same flimsy, teen movie melodrama that made the first After such a carousel of clichés. Hardin reheats the same conflict he had with his dad in the first film, resulting in the same pouty, irritating theatrics. Tessa’s mom (Selma Blair) is still a controlling bitch, although this time the script only uses her to push Tessa and Hardin back into each other’s arms. Oh yeah, there’s some stuff with Hardin’s stepbrother (Shane Paul McGhie), and something else with Noah (Dylan Arnold), Tessa’s other lousy ex-boyfriend. I’m not really sure. I was way more into my Cool Ranch Doritos™ at this point.
As for grading the performers, I’m pretty much in the same boat as the first movie. Fiennes Tiffin and Langford cry and scream from start to finish, and it still amounts to zippo in the chemistry department. In their defense, I don’t think Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling could do any better. Hell, if you could send back a DeLorean, I don’t think a young Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep could bring it to life, either. There’s a bizarro world out there in which Fiennes Tiffin and Langford get to showcase their talent with a better script. Unfortunately, this material does nothing but let them down. (At one point, Tessa says, “I’d like to think we’re not Neanderthals.” She’s confident that she and Hardin are evolved enough to sleep next to each other without having sex. Then, they crawl in bed and have sex, definitively proving that both characters are, in fact, Neanderthals.)
I think my biggest beef with a movie like this is the stupid, wonky way it views true love. Of course, I won’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I do love my wife a million, billion times over. And I totally get that any long-term relationship is a huge commitment, and it takes real work. At the same time, that work shouldn’t feel like work. We’re not talking about digging ditches or building a cathedral out of toothpicks. It shouldn’t seem like you’re forever trying to staple syrup to the wall.
But’s exactly what After We Collided would have you believe. Hardin and Tessa move from one miserable encounter to the other. They squabble and snark, ruining each other’s chances for happiness along the way. You get the idea that this sucks for both of them, and that ain’t my idea of romance. Again, the movie makes Trevor the heel for calling it like it is: These two are a terrible couple, and they need to get the hell away from each other. Maybe the next film could focus on Trevor. Maybe he could break away from all these crappy characters and get into a good relationship of his own. At least he’ll have a good idea of what true love isn’t.
107 min. R.
(* = This autocorrected to vampire, and I almost left it as is.)