Return to Paradise movie poster
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Return to Paradise - Movie Synopsis & Plot

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Return to Paradise is about the transformation of a lost soul, a man who rescues himself while desperately trying to save another, and the important choices that define-and perhaps save-a life.

College grads Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) and Tony (David Conrad) meet by chance and become close friends while touring Asia on vacation. They close out a month-long trip to Penang, Malaysia with a reckless spree that two years later would test the bounds of their friendship and tragically alter their lives: Sheriff and Tony would be pressed to return to paradise to save an imprisoned Lewis' life-a decision that would imperil their own lives.

At the heart of director Joseph Ruben's crisis of conscience thriller, is Lewis, the gentle idealist who stayed in Malaysia to study endangered orangutans. Tony is a reflective, quiet structural engineer, determined to fill New York City's skyline with even more skyscrapers. Sheriff is a cynical protagonist, brandishing a cool, comedic indifference and who forfeited ambition long ago.

It is Lewis' committed attorney Beth Eastern (Anne Heche), who disrupts Sheriff and Tony's lives with the dire proposition, complicated by the grave interference of an ambitious reporter, M.J. Major (Jada Pinkett Smith).

Sheriff and Tony are forced to come to grips with their paradise lost. Will they go back and share responsibility for the drug charge all three committed and that left only Lewis with prison and a death sentence?

It started when the trio decided to spend their last day in this Third World Xanadu, cruising on a bike through the countryside. Their precarious joyride ended with a wrecked bike and Sheriff throwing the mangled cycle over a cliff.

The next day, as Sheriff and Tony waved goodbye to Lewis, they ditched their stash of hashish in the garbage.

Two years pass.

Sheriff is a hustling independent New York limo driver who gets a special pickup request from a new customer, Beth. She reveals her impossible deadline: eight days to convince Sheriff and Tony to spend the next three years of their lives in a Malaysian prison-or Lewis hangs. The reason? Lewis has been incarcerated for the past two years as a drug dealer, a crime punishable by death in Malaysia. He was arrested the day after Sheriff and Tony left their bungalow, the day the bike owner had authorities hunt down his lost property but found Lewis and the discarded hashish instead. The amount was large enough to make him a dealer under Malaysian law, unless it can be shown that he shared the hashish.

The dilemma? Tony and Sheriff shoulder responsibility or Lewis dies for their alleged crimes. The issue is clear-cut; the decision-far from it. Complicating Tony's decision is not just a career, but his fiance Kerrie (Vera Farmiga) who fears for Tony's life and pressures him to stay. Sheriff's soul-searching also takes on a new dimension when he and Beth become romantically involved.

As the deadline looms, Beth preys on Tony's and Sheriffs guilt, her frustration intensified by M.J. Major, who has picked up the scent of Lewis' story and threatens to break it if Beth doesn't tell all. Beth dodges, pleading with M.J.'s humanity, fearing a story could anger Malaysian authorities and prompt them to expedite Lewis' execution. A well-intentioned Major argues to the contrary: an international story may be the swing factor in saving Lewis' life. Time, in more ways than one, is of the essence.

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