Return to Paradise - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Return to Paradise Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ August 12, 2009
review soon...
Super Reviewer
November 10, 2011
An original, thought-provoking film concerning three friends who party hard in Malaysia one summer (Vince Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix, and David Conrad), where illegal substances are used frequently and the concentration is on just "having a good time". Flash forward a few years later, two of the buds (Vaughn and Conrad) already returned to the states while one of them (Phoenix) stayed behind, and a tenacious lawyer (Anne Heche) appears out of nowhere to inform them that their friend has been arrested for possession of hash, enough to put him to death under Malaysian laws. He is sentenced to hang, with the only exception being if one of the friends or both of them return home, in which case the three of them would do six or three years together respectively. It is a somewhat complicated plot, almost to the point where you start to question if this could actually happen (it might, just not here in the States), but the driving force behind this film remains the trio of performances from Vaughn (who has never been better), Phoenix (whose performance is simply chilling) and Heche (an utterly phenomenal turn), and how you sympathize with these characters. However, the film totally careens off course in its last third, when it seems as if a Hollywood studio kicked in the door and wrecked the creative writing process. It is a shame this movie becomes just "average" when the finale goes for conventional Hollywood story swings, including a laughable final shot that is supposed to be dramatic and uplifting, as well as a severe leap in logic concerning the fate of Vaughn's character. Not a bad movie by any means, but it could have been good or great if it wasn't hamstrung by a poorly put-together final act.
Super Reviewer
October 25, 2010
The intricate workings of the moral dilemma somehow overcome the melodrama. You could complain that the concept deserved to no give-ins to schmaltz from the directors, actors and the soundtrack... but including the schmaltz makes this movie a twisted, tragic version of The Hangover.
Super Reviewer
May 18, 2010
Coincidentally, got to see 2 movies focusing more or less on someone dealing with the fear to go to prison. While one movie (The 25th Hour) was a disappointment, this one was an amazing experience. The scene depicting Joaquin Phoenix's condition in the prison was brilliant. Joaquin Phoenix played that part incredibly well, keeping it simple, sans any overacting. Highly recommended.

The ending was what I though it'd be, but it didn't happen the way I thought. My idea was that ultimately Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) would ask Sheriff (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) to not to admit their part in crime & return. He wishes to be hanged because he feels that he'd never be able to get back to what he was (completely sane) after the bitter years he spent in prison. He now looks up on his execution as his freedom.

While I found the actual ending equally okay, my only problem was with the all-of-a-sudden "media" twist which was a bit hard to digest. Overlooking that, it was wonderfully done.
Super Reviewer
December 22, 2007
Fascinating premise but not enough to sustain 100 minutes. Instead it grows bored and throws in an unnecessary romance to try and keep things moving.
Super Reviewer
October 23, 2008
This movie was amazing, one of Vince Vaugn's best movies.
Super Reviewer
½ November 13, 2007
Good film, towards the end was really sad but realistic. Good performances by Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, and Joaquin Phoenix.
Super Reviewer
March 16, 2006
Vaughn and Phoenix are awesome.
½ October 4, 2013
It was ok...I wasn't surprised at all by any of the "twists" because they foreshadowed what would happen next throughout the whole thing starting about 20 minutes in. It was obvious that Beth wasn't a lawyer, I had it pegged that she was going to sell them out for Lewis and she was his wife or someone attached to him. The only surprise for me was that there really WAS a deal if the other two came that they would have the sentence reduced because that idea seemed pretty sketchy. It started off strong with the whole moral dilemma and gradually revealing the choices that everyone made but the ending was pretty weak. The whole "love story" angle thrown into it was entirely unnecessary because it makes no sense. Who dates someone for what...4 or 5 days and then acts like they've been together for years? Then oh the melodramatic overacting at the end and the rain (fire and rain symbolize cleansing and rebirth) and the I'll wait for frustrating. With the talent that was in this movie they could have gone a very long way with some understatement, the situation alone was dramatic enough that adding overkill just was....ok overkill. Prime example is the Green Mile- let the audience read your faces. It really was just THIS close to being really good if the scene at the airport was taken out (you know how it is, if there's ever some sort of unfinished dilemma like love then they always wait till after the ticket is bought then stay at the last possible second) I know I'm being rather cynical, but adding romantic drama cliche did nothing but muck it up.
July 31, 2012
An interesting film to review indeed. Figured this would pretty much be 'Midnight Express' modernized, but it's not at all. This film focuses more on life at home & state of mind rather than life in prison. 'Return to Paradise' is all over the place script wise, but somehow the end result is quite good & entertaining. Vince Vaughn isn't an actor I'm fond of. Never has been. He's quite good here though & shows off some of his overlooked acting chops. His speech he gives to the Malaysian judge at the end was Oscar worthy. Anne Heche is equally good. Why those 2 don't do more films like this I don't know. Phoenix is effective & powerful in his short screen time. Story is very thought provoking. Ending was a total shocker for me & quite intense. Overall a very solid movie, but nothing special. It fit my taste.
½ June 16, 2012
If only Vince Vaughn would do more movies like this. He WAS sssssoooo good! So did Anne Heche and Joaquin Phoenix.
November 13, 2011
"Return to Paradise" presents the kind of moral dilemma that might be presented to you on some drunken night with a bunch of friends. I mean, Would you go to prison in another country for years, in order to save a friend from death, if you weren't being forced to? The problem for the characters in this film, of course, is that the question is not hypothetical, and that makes the answer all the more impossible.

The movie opens in Panang, Malaysia, where 3 friends, Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), Tony (David Conrad) and Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) are enjoying a lengthy stay overseas, viewing all their activities through a casual, day to day haze of drugs. "We've got it all here," Sheriff says, describing the warm ocean water as "God's own bathtub." Eventually, months later, Tony and Sheriff decide to head back stateside to pick up where they left off. Lewis, however, remains behind, planning to join an effort to free apes from captivity.

Through a series of events, Lewis is arrested for drug possession after police discover him with 100 kilos of hashish that the 3 men had purchased. He is charged with drug trafficking, a capital crime in Malaysia, and is sentenced to death by hanging. After two years in prison his last appeal has just been rejected and he is within a week of his sentence being carried out.

The other two men were unaware of this, but Lewis's attorney, Beth (Anne Heche) approaches the men with the news of Lewis's situation. She has forged a deal with the Malaysian authorities: if at least one of the two others will return with her to Malaysia and accept their share of ownership of the hashish, Lewis will not have to die. The prison term for both men returning would be three years. If only one returns, he will have to serve six.

Although Vaughn and Conrad play the men with the impossible decision to make, Anne Heche is the one whose performance carries the film. She doggedly appeals to both men's sense of morality, and there is a possibility that she may go too far sometimes in her methods. The film doesn't paint her as a heroine but as a woman willing to do almost anything to save Lewis's life, and perhaps will cross lines even she can't fully appreciate. Vince Vaughn is also very good and you can't help but feel for this guy throughout the film, especially the end. Many have said that Joaquin Phoenix "steals the movie", and he was very good, but keep in mind he's only onscreen for 10-15 minutes or so out of the entire movie. David Conrad plays sort of the odd man out in all this even though his decision is just as important as Vaughn's. Still Conrad was pretty good throughout. Vera Farmiga before she started getting bigger roles was great in her short time on screen. Jada Pinkett Smith is pretty annoying but that was the role she was obviously going for so it worked well.

The movie is determined to be evenhanded in its position on all of this, and firmly leaves the audience to decide what is right. This leaves us in suspense about exactly what choices the characters will make, and what the end result will be. Movies like this can be a real treat because of how they force you to think about the issues they present, and in the end, if given the decision that Tony and Sheriff had to make, I can honestly say I would not have an answer.
December 11, 2009

Three friends spend vacation time in Malaysia- two go home, but one, Lewis McBride (Joaquin Phoenix) stays with the dream of working with apes for his research. Two years later a lawyer, Beth Eastern (Anne Heche), locates the friends. It turns out that shortly after they had left Lewis, police raided their camp and found large quantities of hash inside. Lewis was the only one residing there, so he took the full blame and is being sentenced to execution unless his two friends can come forward and take their share of the responsibility, whereby reducing the sentence for him, but at the same time putting themselves into the depths of hell.

The story begins with questions of morality but quickly devolves into absurdities; however, it is the literally CHILLING, emotionally wrought and powerful performance given by Joaquin Phoenix that *really* lends this movie its legs. (Review edited to add that credit aught to be given to Anne Heche's equally brilliant performance.) Set design was well constructed, giving the feeling of third-world, unsanitary conditions, and the feeling of total isolation from the pretty things we're all use to...

Overall worth it for the performances and a long after-movie discussion. 7.8/10.
½ May 10, 2010
(from The Watermark, 09/17/98)
An excellent film, and one of my top ten thus far this year. Young party guys Vaughn and Conrad visit their buddy Phoenix in Malaysia, and frolic their way through the abundant liquor, ladies, and drugs. Two years later, back home in New York, Vaughn and Conrad are approached by a young attorney (Heche), with the news that Phoenix was found with a brick of hashish that they all purchased, and has been in prison since they left him. He is due to be executed in eight days, unless Vaughn and Conrad step forward and voluntarily agree to serve three years apiece. Conrad and Vaughn are torn: do they volunteer to enter a Third World prison to save their friend's life? Can they live with themselves if they refuse? The actors are all excellent, but clearly this is Vaughn's vehicle, though Phoenix also gives an Oscar-worthy performance. The romance that emerges between Heche and Vaughn is somewhat contrived, however it is necessary for the eventual redemption of Vaughn's self-centered character. The best element is the constant underlying question that all of us in the audience must ask ourselves throughout the film: What would I do in the same situation?
February 20, 2010
This movie will blow your mind! 3 friends go to Malaysia and two come back. They have to decide to go back to save their friend. Would you go back? I dont wanna give away the movie, but definitely a flick worth seeing.
½ January 22, 2010
I must admit that I LOVED this movie so much (I saw it by myself) that I made my husband and some friends go see it the very next night ‚?? and they all thought it was ‚??just okay‚??. Well, it‚??s one of those movies that MOVED me. It‚??s all about a lost soul and redemption (I love redemption movies).
½ January 17, 2010
Lewis, Sheriff and Tony are three American guys who meet and hang out one summer at the beach huts of Malaysia. There they enjoy the luxuries of women, rum and hashish.. As the summer ends, Tony and Sheriff go back to New York, but Lewis decides to go to Borneo to help save A orangutan.. A few days after they left the island, police raided their camp and found amazingly large quantities of hash Phoenix was still residing there, so he had to take the blame. He is set to be put to death in 8 days
Long Story Short...
The two 2 guys have to decide Either do 3 years each if they booth go back to Malaysia or 6 years If only one goes back or
Lewis Die's if neither go!!! Do They want to give up their freedom and go to a Third-World prison To help save a guy they barely know ???
September 13, 2009
A Midnight Express for a new generation. Not as graphic, but well written and acted Joquain is fantastic as usual.
March 25, 2009
The moral aspects of this movie i thought were great. I think Sherriff/Vince Vaugn was great in this movie. He is a great actor as well as Lewis /Joaquin Phoenix, they are both great actors. They were terrific in this movie and i think this is probably my favorite movie with them int i.
June 23, 2007
I love it when a movie relies on a strong idea to win the audience over -- rather than excessive violence or high-tech special effects (although I enjoy those kinds of movies as well).

The premise of Return to Paradise is relatively simple: Three friends on holiday in Malaysia. Two leave. The police arrive and find hash where they were staying. The third is put in jail. Two years later a lawyer finds the two remaining men in New York and tells them that their friend was found guilty of trafficking. They must go back to share the punishment or he will die in 7 days.

It's a frightening dilemma and you can't help but ask yourself the same question. Would you go back? If one goes back they go to prison for 6 years. If both go they will have 3 years each. All of the arguments are put forward, making the answer not seem as clear as originally imagined. The timeframe is made even tenser with titles reminding us of how many days are remaining.

Vince Vaughn plays our hero who doesn't always act in the morally correct way we expect him to do. He doesn't immediately decide to go back, making us question if we would either. Vaughn gives the finest performance of his career as the not completely likeable 'Sheriff'. Anne Heche plays the increasingly desperate lawyer who will do anything to save her client from execution. And her desperation is made completely believable by Heche's multi-faceted performance.

The real stand out performance for me was that of Joaquin Phoenix who plays the imprisoned Lewis. Phoenix has little screen time but whenever he's on he totally captivates. The video message to his two friends is just heartbreaking, and his last scene is one I will never forget.

The powerful portrayals in this film are rivaled by its powerful story. The plot is so richly detailed that, though it seems a ridiculously simple premise, it is brought to life with horrific realism.

Not a car chase in sight and hardly any violence, but the tension is sky high. When Sheriff visits Lewis in prison, and Lewis tries to describe his life of the last two years, knowing that his friend has still not yet agreed to the deal . . . what a scene!
And by the time the suspenseful court scene arrives, you will find yourself nervously hoping for a happy ending.

Needless to say the film ends with a succession of unspeakably powerful scenes. I find that not too many people know of this movie, and that's a shame...5 stars, definitely recommend.

(Ask yourself...would you give up years of your life for a friend? Would you be willing to let that friend die if you didn't?)
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