Return To Paradise

Review Date:
Director: Joseph Ruben
Writer: Wesley Strick and Bruce Robinson
Producers: Alain Bernheim and Steve Golin
Vince Vaughn as John
Three guys go down to Malaysia for some fun and relaxation. They smoke hash. Drink a lot of rum. And bang a lot of girls. Money depleted, two of the friends return home to NY. The remaining guy gets caught with their remaining brick of hash, and is to be sentenced to death by hanging, unless his two friends return to the exotic land of Malaysia, and serve respective three-year prison sentences. If one returns, he serves six years. What would you do?
Solid premise filled with a plethora of moral dilemmas, this film rocks you through the gamut of emotions on the strength of its superb casting and genuine performances. If the plot line of this film does not interest you, then you may or may not like this movie depending on your mood. On the other hand, if the basis of this film does draw in you some intrigue, get ready to enjoy the spoils of your emotional interest. This is a not a film for the kids. Suffice it to say that if you liked the Oliver Stone-penned MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (8/10), you will most likely appreciate this film as well.

This movie is not a cut-and-paste moral drama that slowly places all the right pieces in front of you as you strand along. It’s a well drawn-out story with interesting characters, real emotions, and several unforeseen curves thrown in for a deeper search of the soul. The twists keep the story from getting boring, but more than that, it is the actors that come through in blazing colours. Vince Vaughn delivers his best performance since his breakthrough role in SWINGERS (10/10), with a character that could easily have been played without much care, but instead, we find a well-rounded human being whose continually interesting to watch, and a joy to deconstruct. Granting that I’ve never been much of an Anne Heche fan should draw further notice to my acclamation of her rock-solid performance, while Joaquin Phoenix plays his part with a big heart and sensitive touch, likely to bring tears to your eyes.

The two negative points in this otherwise extremely compelling drama would be Jada Pinkett Smith’s appearance and performance as the one-dimensional reporter with a dire need for acting lessons, and the uninspired and trite budding of romance among a couple of the characters. Other than that, make sure that you bring plenty of tissues, if you’re the type of person that cries (Mrs. JoBlo is guilty as charged…again!), and prepare to be transported through some of the darkest passages of your consciousness, while attempting to complete the answers to some of the most personal questions rustling through this fine film. A summer blockbuster it is not, but a thought-provoking story, it is.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

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