- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

Plenty of sequels never should have seen the dim light of the cineplex. Think “Caddyshack 2” (1988), “Speed 2” (1997) or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” (1986).

Then along comes “Before Sunset,” a rich romance born from Richard Linklater’s minor gem, “Before Sunrise.” That 1995 film explored the spontaneous chemistry between two young travelers in Europe.

Whatever happened to them? Did they reconvene six months later as they promised, or did time wash clean the memories of their fling? Suddenly, the whole notion of the sequel makes sense, at least until “Scooby Doo 3” comes our way.

“Before Sunset” re-teams Mr. Linklater with actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke nearly a decade after their characters’ last embrace. Jesse (Mr. Hawke) has blossomed into a successful author and is reading from his new novel at a Paris bookstore when the film opens. Celine (Miss Delpy) is still living in Paris and happens by the store during the reading.

The two exchange a poignant glance, a moment that fails to live up to our expectations. They quickly exchange pleasantries, each delighted to see the other after all these years.

It should have happened earlier, since both promised to meet six months after the first film’s story wrapped. Turns out, Jesse showed up as promised. Celine didn’t.

Nine years later, that doesn’t matter. What does is that Jesse is due to fly from Paris back to his New York City home in a few hours, leaving them little time to catch up. The two set out for the back streets of Paris, eager to find out how the other’s life turned out.

Mr. Linklater thumbs his nose at the typical Parisian sights, content to film the secondary streets and waterways. The scenery still delights, but not in any way that might distract us.

Initially, whatever chemistry boiled between the two in the original film appears to have evaporated by the time this one begins. Yet their conversation falls easily into comfortable rhythms, and neither seems eager to discuss their current romances. Perhaps Mr. Linklater wants to delay those revelations for as long as dramatically possible.

Jesse is married, but hardly content. Celine is dating an adventurous sort but appears restless. How the characters reconnect is a testament to Mr. Linklater and his leads, who all collaborated on both the unfolding story and the lifelike script.

“Before Sunset” tugs us forward in close to real time in a style that’s decidedly independent. It’s all talk, and nearly all of it is worth hearing. Both Jesse and Celine are at once believable and representative of their sex. Jesse’s perhaps more romantic than the average fellow, and Celine’s outbursts appear goosed for cinematic weight.

Slight but consistently smart, “Before Sunset” shows us rekindling an old love is a messy process, but also a liberating one — no matter how it turns out.

***

WHAT: “Before Sunset”

RATING: R (harsh language and sexually frank material)

CREDITS: Directed by Richard Linklater. Written by Mr. Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke based on characters created by Mr. Linklater and Kim Krizan.

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes

WEB SITE: www.wip.warnerbros.com/beforesunset/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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