Three men spend some time in Malaysia doing drugs, sleeping with women, and just having fun. One of them decides to stay behind and join an organization to help orangutans. The other two return to their normal lives in New York. Two years later, a woman comes to the two men and says that Lewis, the guy that stayed behind, was arrested two years ago for possession of drugs and is going to be hanged in eight days. Unless the other two men return to serve three years in prison.
Return to Paradise has a lot of potential, since it does rely on a very controversial issue: Two men must decide between their own lives and the life of their friend. Unfortunately, Paradise fails to present any real internal arguments. In a movie where good, thick characters are necessary, the characters are all one-layered. Vince Vaughn plays a single limousine driver who is a jerk, and he's the main character. He doesn't want to spend three years in prison, of course, but, since he is the main character, the life of his friend ends up relying on him. Basically, the movie watches as his character painfully turns to accept his fate, but there is no real effort to look into his brain. The best difficulty in the movie is Tony (David Conrad), who has a good career and is engaged to be married. This is the kind of multi-layered character the movie needs - unfortunately, he gets about fifteen minutes of screen time. So we're stuck with Vince Vaughn. Also, there is Beth Eastern (Anne Heche), who is the one trying to drag the two guys back to Malaysia. She has a deep connection with Lewis and pretends to act desperately to keep him from hanging, but throughout the course of the movie she manages to have sex with one of the characters a few time (guess which one?). Now, I can see how this relationship is trying to form a new level of emotion when the decision finally comes, but it ends up just being a cheesy bit of Hollywood cliché. Unless Heche is just trying to persuade the guy to go to Malaysia by being a whore and sleeping with him, but that's equally bad.
The acting isn't bad, but, like I mentioned earlier, the characters don't have much depth. The great performance of the movie comes from Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Lewis, the man set to be hanged. In the beginning, he is the kindest guy around, and by the end, it is totally obvious what the third world prison has done to him. Very good acting.
The ending is actually pretty good, and makes up for some of the movie's other shortcomings, but not quite. The one thing that could have been added would be another scene between the reporter (Jada Pinkett) and Anne Heche. That would have been one good scene, but, unfortunately, it is no where to be found.
I got Return to Paradise for free from the library for a week. If your library has it, take advantage of it. But I would not spend too much money on this mediocre film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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