Return to Paradise is a movie that has a great morality play. It uses the characters to force us to ask ourselves one question Is the life of a friend worth three years of your life?
As Return to Paradise opens, we learn of three friends Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), Tony (David Conrad), and Lou (Joaquin Phoenix). They are speding their vacation together in Malaysia - smoking hash, having sex with exotic women, and enjoying the quiet life. Sheriff is a limo driver, Tony an architect, and Lou a self proclaimed tree hugger. As their vacation ends the three decide what to do. Sheriff and Tony decide to fly back to New York, but Lou wants to stay and help free orangutans.
Two years later Sheriff and Tony are approached by a lawyer, Beth (Anne Heche), who tells them what happened to Lou right after they left. It turns out that Lou was caught with the hash and has been imprisoned for the last two years. Compounding this news is the fact that Lou has only seven days to live. The Malaysian government takes drugs seriously and they have sentenced Lou to death. The only thing that can save Lou is if both Sheriff and Tony go back to Malaysia and accept their responsibility with the drugs. In that case, Lou’s life will be spared. If Sheriff and Tony return, they will have to spend three years in prison to complete this deal to save Lou.
Writers Wesley Strick and Bruce Robinson have put together a tight and engrossing script. The script never strays into melodrama and focuses solely on the question of if these two friends will go back to save Lou.
Kudos to cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos, who shoots this film wonderfully. The film is shot with mostly grays, blacks, and whites. But, Villalobos skillfully slips in some bright colors to match the emotions of the characters onscreen.
The cast is superb. Vaughn, who I last saw in the Lost World, is the staple for this film. His performance stands out. Vaughn plays Sheriff right on the money - a guy who is hesitant to go back to Malaysia. Anne Heche absolutely glows in Return to Paradise. Her portrayal of Beth is diverse, hard-edged and pushy sometimes and soft and loving at other times. David Conrad doesn’t get enough screen time, but when he is on screen he matches the performances of both Heche and Vaughn. As for Phoenix, he does well with the minimal amount of work the script provides.
Director Joseph Ruben has a winner of a film. Return to Paradise is a Don’t Miss film. This film is remarkable - the writing is strong, the film looks great, and the acting is near perfect. It’s nice to have films like Return to Paradise mixed in with the late summer films. It gives a good balance to the explosions and gun-fights that typically populate the summer films. Again, Don’t Miss Return to Paradise.
After seeing this film, let me know if you’d trade three years of your life to save the life of a friend.
Edited by Cher Johnson.