The thing about "Return to Paradise" is that it unfolds on screen so well; for a while, you might even be convinced you are in the presence of filmmaking greatness. Vince Vaughn and David Conrad are two friends who travel to Malaysia for a good time, and meet up with a soulful, cheery Joaquin Phoenix (who is terrific) for the vacation of their lives. When they leave Phoenix to go back to New York, he is arrested for drugs that all three of them had bought.
Flash forward two years later, and the previously unaware boys are told by lawyer Anne Heche that they must go back to Malaysia and serve three years in prison, or else their buddy will die. Obviously, this is the kind of nightmare you can only dream about in casual, hypothetical thoughts on long road trips, and "Paradise" deftly makes you wonder just how far you'd go for another friend's life. If the movie concentrated on that, it would be one thing, but unfortunately, it's also a love story. We are forced to believe that Heche and Vaughn have some sort of attraction for each other, even as it seems utterly without motivation, nor does it make any sense. The philosophical conundrums soon get tiresome, and eventually you just want Vaughn to go back to Malaysia and quit whining already. By the finale, the movie fails on so many emotional levels that it seems like an almost criminal waste of potential; too schmaltzy for an indie flick, too arbitrary for a mainstream thriller. "Paradise" ends up doing nothing particularly well.
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