Reviewed by: Patton Dodd
The trailers for Joseph Ruben’s “Return to Paradise” describe a film fraught with potential: three young men party together for five weeks in Malaysia; two go back to America while the third stays behind to plan a trip to Bolero; his plans are cut short, however, when Malaysian police find a stash of hashish and imprison him. Two years later, the two men in America face an ethical dilemma—either go back to Malaysia and accept their share of the responsibility, which will mean three years of prison apiece, or stay in New York and allow their friend to be hanged. A wonderful Aristotelean ethical dilemma, indeed, but having developed the premise, Ruben’s film falters, becoming an exercise in commerciality and formula rather than an interesting filmic study of human nature.
Most of the action and dialogue in “Return to Paradise” take place between Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche. Vaughn’s character, Sheriff, is decidedly reluctant to return to Malaysia, and much of the film is concerned with watching Sheriff negotiate with his conscience. This works at times and we find ourselves placing ourselves in Sheriff’s shoes, trying to decide what we would do in the same situation. However, lame plot twists combined with a shallow, absurd love story between Heche and Vaughn make us lose faith in the credibility of the film. In fact, “Return to Paradise” stands as another example of the kind of empty, loveless relationships and unsubstantiated thematic content that contemporary films have to offer.
“Return to Paradise” is finally unrecommendable on all counts. As a piece of art, it is laughable. As an ethical dialectic, it falls flat. The profanity and violence are relatively tame, but the sexual content, though not truly explicit, is entirely unredeeming. If you see it, be prepared to walk out, not just because your Christian sensibilities are offended, but because your intelligence is offended as well.