Paradise

*½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)
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Far from it.

Paradise

The H-Bomb: When a terrible accident leaves most of her body covered in burn scars, mid-western Christian girl, Lamb (Julianne Hough), undergoes a major crisis of faith. She flips out and goes on a religion bashing tirade in her church, and then, much to the shock and horror of her parents (Holly Hunter, Nick Offerman), she hops a plane to the devil’s playground itself, Las Vegas, where she hopes to see and do all the things her religion told her she never could.

A genuine fish out of water, Lamb suffers from severe culture shock upon landing in Sin City, as everywhere she goes she encounters drinking, gambling, lewd dancing, hooker cards, girls in short skirts, and Muslim cab drivers(!). For a girl who was forbidden from ever wearing shorts, or going out on dates without a chaperone, it’s all just so much to take in. It doesn’t help that Lamb is very self-conscious about her disfigurement, and feels the need to cover up as much of her body as possible.

Eventually, Lamb’s wanderings lead her to a bar being tended by William (Russell Brand), who pours Lamb her first alcoholic drink… which she promptly spits up. Recognizing that this little Lamb is way out of her depth, William and the bar’s lounge singer, Loray (Octavia Spencer), decide to take her on a guided tour of the “real” Vegas… which basically consists of hitting up bars, bars, and more bars, with a trip to the pharmacy to pick up some much needed pain killers and a heart to heart talk with a hooker thrown in for good measure. What ensues is a painfully dull all-nighter that most definitely should have stayed in Vegas.

Paradise marks the directorial debut of Oscar winning scribe Diablo Cody, and serves as undeniable proof that not all screenwriters, even exceptionally talented ones, are meant to be directors. Things get off to a promising enough start, as Lamb rips her small, conservative church a new one with Cody’s scathingly witty dialogue, that is as sharp as ever. It has a solid theme, with an overly sheltered young woman seeing and experiencing the world for the first time, and discovering herself along the way. That all sounds well and good, doesn’t it?

So, where, o’ where, does Paradise go so, so wrong? Long and short of it, Cody’s direction. While the films made from her scripts that were helmed by Jason Reitman had a great deal of spark and spunk to spare, Paradise is just flat and lifeless. I would never have believed that a film set mostly in Las Vegas could be so visually dreary, with bland cinematography that would barely cut the muster for a Lifetime movie, but alas.

Cody’s lack of visual flair, however, is really a minor problem. It’s her non-existent sense of pacing that’s the real issue. There are so many scenes that just sit there, as if all the energy and urgency have been sucked right out of them. Events simply unfold in a very blasé manner, so much so that even the moments that were meant to be emotional and affecting fail to strike any kind of chord. It’s Cody’s indifferent direction that gives the picture an overall lack of weight and a sense of plodding that makes the scant 87 minute running time feel twice as long.

While Cody proves to be a fairly inept director, she really could have helped herself immeasurably had she handed herself a better script. As stated, her trademark dialogue starts out entertaining enough in the beginning, but completely loses its bite somewhere along the way, and ultimately becomes just as banal as everything else in the movie. This is probably the first film Cody has written where I can’t recall a single witty or memorable quote from it. Not a one. Hell, even the lackluster Jennifer’s Body had some quotable lines.

The cast tries here, they really do, with Hough making a surprisingly appealing lead. With the wrong actress in the role, Lamb could have come off, in some instances, as a complete caricature, a cartoon version of a provincial small town girl, and in others, as a whiny, self-centered bitch, when she brays on and on about her misfortunes. But Hough, in spite of the script, and the character’s laughably obvious name, managed to make her human and empathetic.

I was also surprised by Brand, who I never liked, as a comedian or an actor, but here, as the roving-eyed barman who develops a genuine affection for Lamb, he’s sympathetic and even kind of… charming… kind of. I also liked Spencer as the straight talking Loray, who tries to impart some wisdom on the naive Lamb. There’s a moment in which she comments on the role of wise, black characters in movies that I found rather amusing. It was the cast alone that saved this dismal, flavorless film from the one star stamp of death.

Sadly, as hard as the actors try, there simply is no saving Paradise. A boring script, plus boring direction, equals a boring movie. There is just no way around it, this movie’s failure falls entirely at the feet of Diablo Cody, who must have been going through a particularly uninspired phase when she wrote this dreck, then decided to shoot it herself. I do hope this is merely a phase, that she hasn’t lost all inspiration, as she’s shown herself to be immensely talented in the past. I also hope that she hasn’t lost Jason Reitman’s phone number, because, as Paradise clearly demonstrates, directing is not where Ms. Cody’s talents lie.

 


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