Return to Paradise (1998)

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AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

This remake of Force Majeure (aka Uncontrollable Circumstances), a 1989 film with Alan Bates and Kristin Scott Thomas, recalls the prison plight depicted in Midnight Express (1978). Rambling around Asia, getting high and just having a good time, are three young men -- Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix), and Tony (David Conrad). Sheriff and Tony say goodbye to Lewis, a conscientious Greenpeace activist and nature-lover who stays on to rescue endangered Borneo orangutans. Two years later, Tony is an architect about to marry, and Sheriff has a job driving a limo around New York City. When Beth (Anne Heche) steps into Sheriff's limo, she tells him that she's a lawyer working to save Lewis. He learns that Lewis was arrested by Malaysian authorities, tried as a drug dealer, convicted, and sentenced to death. Sheriff's actions of trashing a borrowed bicycle and casually disposing of 100 grams of hash make him responsible for Lewis's predicament, but does he feel guilty enough to get involved? The execution is only eight days away, but it will not happen if Tony and/or Sheriff return to also serve time -- three years each if both come back, but six years if only one returns. Investigating this story is reporter M.J. Major (Jada Pinkett Smith), who views the situation as an important international news story. Tony readily agrees to go back and save Lewis -- but only if Sheriff also returns with him. Sheriff initially declines, prompting the desperate Beth to find ways to convince him to go. Complicating matters, Sheriff and Beth begin to find they are attracted to each other. Eventually, all fly to Malaysia during the final 24 hours before the execution. Director Joseph Ruben filmed in Hong Kong, Macao, and Thailand, with Malaysian prison interiors shot in Philadelphia.
Rating:
R (adult situations/language, sex, violence)
Genre:
Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:
PolyGram Video

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Cast

Vince Vaughn
as Sheriff
Vera Farmiga
as Kerrie
Anne Heche
as Beth Eastern
Jada Pinkett Smith
as M.J. Major
Joel de la Fuente
as Mr. Doramin
Nick Sandow
as Ravitch
Richard Chang
as Prosecutor
Deanna Yusoff
as Woman in Bar
Brettanya Friese
as Young Woman in Limo
Ming Lee
as Mr. Chandran
James Michael McCauley
as Divorce Lawyer
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Critic Reviews for Return to Paradise

All Critics (45) | Top Critics (13)

It's a painful prospect, to be sure, and Sheriff, in particular, insists he's no hero, but the next hour or so of handwringing conjures little suspense.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

What if director Joseph Ruben didn't resort to B-movie suspense tricks? What if the fine cast wasn't saddled with a shamelessly contrived script by Wesley Strick and Bruce Robinson?

May 11, 2001
Rolling Stone
Top Critic

If it's to be experienced at all, Return to Paradise is best seen as a lively piece of pulp, not a profound exploration of the vagaries of the human soul.

Full Review… | February 13, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

This is a major example of a good idea, one that could have worked, being submitted to a Hollywood tag-team makeover.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
CNN.com
Top Critic

The best performance in the film belongs to Anne Heche, who continues to impress with her range. Her work here is passionate, and she effectively conveys the inner conflict of a woman whose divided loyalties tear at her soul.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
ReelViews
Top Critic

Like Sheriff and Tony, we're pulled both ways by the story: We want them to go back and save Lewis, but we're not exactly sure we'd do the same. That's the Prisoner's Dilemma in a nutshell.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Return to Paradise

½

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♥˩ƳИИ ƜѲѲƉƧ♥

Super Reviewer

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.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

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.

Adam Mahler
Adam Mahler

Super Reviewer

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