According to the dictionary and not taking into account the religious connotations, the word "paradise" means "a place of ideal beauty or loveliness" or "a state of delight." When you hear the term "another day in paradise," the mind wanders to visions of tropical splendor, where deciding how loud to play the next Jimmy Buffet tune is the most difficult thing to contemplate while warm waters lap at one's toes.
Not knowing anything about the film, "Another Day in Paradise," before heading into the theater, I was expecting all sorts of pleasant things before the lights went down and the curtain opened. What followed for the next one hundred or so minutes, however, completely dashed those sunny, vacation thoughts.
While I realize that the title is purposefully ironic, spending time with the lowlife characters that inhabit this film is anything but paradise. Of course, violent, profanity spewing, drug-addicted criminals do really exist out there in the world, but that doesn't mean that I, or any audience member for that matter, wish to get to know them, and this film doesn't change my mind about that.
Of course such criminals have inhabited films for decades, and if drawn correctly, they can be mesmerizing characters. Just look to any of the Coppola or Scorsese mafia films, or the characters found in "Pulp Fiction." While their actions are usually repulsive and abhorrent, the characters themselves -- and often the films in which they appear -- are nonetheless fascinating and often gripping.
Unfortunately, neither of that holds true here. While director Larry Clark ("Kids") shoots the film with a shaky, low budget documentary style that gives you more of a "you are there" feel, it does nothing to draw you into the standard issue story (as written by Stephen Chin and Christopher Landon and based on the book by Eddie Little) or the low-end criminals who inhabit it, beyond the purely superficial, visceral effect.
Since we neither like the characters nor find them intriguing in some fashion (think of Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas" or John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction"), we consequently could care less about the film or what occurs in it.
While I realize that it wasn't the filmmakers' intention to make a hip crime film, the assumed "realism" isn't that shocking, especially after seeing many other films like this as well as TV news shows that feature such low to middle end thieves.
Instead of hip and stylish, we get many scenes of people yelling and screaming at each other (with enough profanities for several films), and while a few of the action scenes are appropriately handled and tense, the rest of the material comes off as irksome, boring and, after a while, a little more than irritating. Since we don't like, care, and aren't mesmerized by any of the characters, that just makes all of it that much worse.
To the film's benefit, actor James Woods ("Contact," "Ghosts of Mississippi") lets everything hang out for his increasingly volatile character, a criminal who's initially intriguing, but soon falls into the standard bad guy quickly going violent routine. Even so, he gives his character more bite than in his previous outing ("Vampires") and is the best thing the film has to offer.
Melanie Griffith ("Now and Then," "Milk Money") seems okay at first, what with her experienced and yet somewhat scatterbrained character, and that approach initially seems right for the role. After a while, however, and especially when playing that character under duress, the results are, how shall we say this, quite bad.
Vincent Kartheiser ("Masterminds," "Alaska") is appropriately lanky as the still unsure of himself teen bandit, while Natalie Wood's daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner ("Two Girls and a Guy," "Urban Legend") is okay, but certainly not great in her role. Lou Diamond Phillips ("La Bamba"), in an uncredited performance, however, does give an interesting, but certainly not likeable take on his homosexual criminal character.
While some may try to see more in this picture than deservedly merits mentioning -- such as the whole family symbolism material with Mel and Sid essentially "adopting" Bobbie and Rosie (a bit that's handled a bit too heavy handed when we learn that the older couple can't have kids) -- and to its credit, the picture remains mostly interesting throughout, it's neither enjoyable nor entertaining.
With lackluster criminal exploits, an extremely low budget feel, and some occasionally laugh-out-loud bad acting, this film, with its ugly and unlikeable characters and increasingly irritating moments, will be hard pressed to find much of an audience and should make a quick beeline for the video stores. We give "Another Day in Paradise" a 3 out of 10.