RETURN TO PARADISE
Laying Your Life Down for a Friend
Starring: Anne Heche, David Conrad,
Joaquin Phoenix, & Vince
Audience: Older teenagers & adults
Runtime: 100 minutes
Distributor: Polygram Pictures
Director: Joseph Ruben
Executive Producer: Daniel Arnold
Producer: Alain Bernheim, Steve Golin &
Writer: Josh Friedman, Bruce Robinson
& Wesley Strick
Address Comments To:Michael Kuhn, President
Polygram Filmed Ent.
9348 Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
The movie begins with VHS "home-video" style footage of three American friends cavorting around Malaysia, Sheriff (Vince Vaughn who did a great comedic piece of work in SWINGERS), Tony (David Conrad) and Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix, brother of deceased River). These three reckless youths have enjoyed Malaysia's great weather, easy sex and easy drugs for nearly a year. Sheriff and Tony finally decide that they have had enough play-time and plan to return home to New York City. Lewis tells his friends that he will stay because he plans to go to Borneo to save orangutans.
Two years later, Tony has a posh financial job, and Sheriff is working as a limousine driver. A young woman named Beth, claiming to be an attorney, approaches Sheriff and tells him that Lewis was arrested for drug possession shortly after he and Tony returned to America and has spent the last two years in a dirty prison. She also tells Sheriff that Lewis will hang in eight days if he and Tony don't return to Malaysia and assume their share of the responsibility. If only one friend returns, Lewis gets out of jail, and the one friend must serve six years in prison. If two return, Lewis gets out of jail, and each serves three years in prison. If none return, Lewis hangs in eight days.
What follows is an intense debate on the value of returning. Sheriff and Tony struggle with the question at length, and each have viable reasons for not going. Meanwhile, Beth is being hounded by the press to tell the story, and she also tries every possible way including bribery and offers of sex to Sheriff to convince him to go. Near the climax, both men go, but only one stays, and an unexpected revelation causes the danger to escalate, resulting in tragedy.
RETURN TO PARADISE is beautifully photographed, well-paced, well-acted, and struggles with some deep questions. It asks, "What lengths would you go to free a friend from prison?" It also asks, "What would make you lay down your life for a friend?" Ultimately, the partying Sheriff tells Beth, "I am tired of feeling careless." When Sheriff visits Lewis in prison, Lewis states a very insightful and poignant foxhole story of seeking God. Lewis says that out in the beautiful world, where God is apparent, it is easy not to run to Him. Lewis adds that in prison, it is so important to seek God because he is the only thing that is beautiful. Lewis adds that his prayers to God are the only beauty he knows. In prison, Lewis also offers Sheriff some tea, as a sign of maintaining some semblance of dignity.
On the opposite side, RETURN TO PARADISE has some moral difficulties. First and foremost, it is hard to empathize with a drug user, who was arrested for having more than a kilo of drugs on him. The movie would have been better dramatically and more morally upright if Lewis was imprisoned on false charges. Secondly, Beth shows that she will do any immoral act to save Lewis, and yet Sheriff is still attracted to her. In essence, she tells a big lie to Sheriff, and he is still willing to sacrifice his life for Lewis. Finally, the press is simplified as a big villain in this story. While there may be quite a few bad journalists, their treatment in the movie made them very one-sided and shallow. Finally, moral moviegoers may have difficulty with the excessive foul language, depicted drug use and sexual situations.
While Malaysia is not a huge foe or a huge player on the world market, it is strange that a Hollywood picture, seen worldwide, would want to vilify an entire nation's legal system, and still hope to maintain good graces with the Malaysian government. While Malaysia may be harsh, and there have been unjust sentencing within its borders, the same can be said for the U.S. Yet, in a time when Christians are facing enormous persecution throughout the world, and sometimes you merely have to be an American to face persecution, the subject matter of RETURN TO PARADISE and the importance of national policy and American support for safety and justice overseas is paramount.
RETURN TO PARADISE is beautifully photographed, well-acted and struggles with some deep questions. It talks about seeking God in prison and finding the beauty of knowing Him there. However, it is hard to empathize with a drug user arrested for drug possession. The movie would have been better dramatically and more morally upright if the drug charges were false. Also the movie contains excessive foul language, depicted drug use and sexual situations. Yet, this movie asks some important questions, especially in light of worldwide persecution of Christians