Return to Paradise

Compared to the self-righteous xenophobia and hypocritical pornography of Oliver Stone and Alan Parker’s Midnight Express, this drama about a Malaysian drug bust and its consequences for three young Americans is serious, intelligent, and powerful. Three buddies (Vince Vaughn, David Conrad, and Joaquin Phoenix) do some adolescent carousing in Malaysia, then the first two leave the third behind. Two years later a lawyer (Anne Heche) notifies them that their friend has been arrested for possession of hashish, has been serving a prison term, and will be hung unless they go back to share the blame. If they both go back, each will have to serve three years, but if only one goes back, he’ll have to serve six. None of the moral ramifications of this dilemma is avoided, and to the film’s credit the behavior of the American press seems more questionable than the machinations of third-world justice. Directed by the talented Joseph Ruben (The Stepfather, Sleeping With the Enemy) and sharply written by Wesley Strick and Bruce Robinson, who adapted a 1989 fact-based French feature by Pierre Jolivet, Force majeure. With Jada Pinkett Smith. Broadway, Evanston, Lake, McClurg Court. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.