DOC NYC ’19 Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Apprehending a Cold-Blooded Killer in “After the Murder of Albert Lima”

It’s fitting that director Aengus James looks for a new way into the true crime genre in “After the Murder of Albert Lima,” following the lead of his subject Paul Lima, who takes an alternate route after all other options appear to have been exhausted when bringing the man who murdered his father to justice. After all, the sordid details of such stories can often be as ridiculous as they are horrifying and Lima, who recognizes the absurdity of his situation, appears to be game for the dark comedy that James wants to make in letting cameras follow him to Honduras where he plans to corner his father’s murderer, who had already been convicted by the courts yet is said to have bribed his way out of a 16-year sentence, and haul him in to the authorities.

This would be a tall order for anyone, but particularly for a gym instructor from Tampa Bay, who is introduced asking his contacts in Honduras about the availability of tasers and guns on the island right after helping one of his clients with a workout. You perish the thought should he ever get his hands on one, but that becomes the highly amusing running gag in “After the Murder of Albert Lima” as Lima Jr. goes about plotting an abduction that he has no business even attempting. Given how clearly his father’s death weighs on him, it is somewhat jarring to see his seriousness of intent is often played for parody as ideas he has about the operation, likely inspired by cop shows and movies he’s seen – at one point, he says “Time to shake some fucking trees,” wearing shades like David Caruso on “CSI: Miami” – but you’d also believe that his desperation to bring attention to his father’s case would lead to engaging an audience in any way possible and in that respect, the means of James’ film justifies the end.

As everyone but Paul might expect, things move rather slowly in Honduras, but the film handles the pace far better than he does, enlivened both by Adam Sanborne’s playful score and the cast of intriguing characters you meet along the way, particularly Art Torres and Zora Colakovic, the bounty hunters that Paul has hired to help apprehend his father’s murderer. The two become comic foils for Paul when both can’t share his passion for the case, knowing better from their professional experience, with Art always finding the time to eat ribs and smoke stogies on this Central America excursion and Zora displaying a growing ambivalence about the decisions that her male colleagues make that becomes an ideal avatar for the audience.

Still, there is at least poetic justice in countering the absurdity of how Albert Lima’s killer has roamed free for 13 years after his guilt had been definitively determined with equally ludicrous measures to rein him in, and James strikes a good balance in conveying Paul’s sincere belief in what he’s doing and the reality of the situation, which only becomes stranger the more he thinks he can control it. “After the Murder of Albert Lima,” however, is an impressive display of narrative command, cleverly using its disarming humor to open one’s eyes to the failures of the legal system in Honduras and the potential folly of taking justice into your own hands. While those in the film run a constant risk of a misfire, James hits the bullseye.

“After the Murder of Albert Lima” will be distributed next year by Gunpowder and Sky.