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Another Day In Paradise

One mess of a James Woods vehicle

By Roy Rodenstein

1998, 1 hr 39 min

Directed by Larry Clark

Written by Eddie Little (novel), Christopher B. Landon

With James Woods, Melanie Griffith,Vincent Kartheiser, Natasha Gregson Wagner

Another Day in Paradise has the surprising distinction of being the first movie big-name James Woods has produced in a decade. Woods, along with co-star Melanie Griffith, starred two decades ago in Night Moves, by Bonnie and Clyde director Arthur Penn. A few years ago, Woods was in another sex-and-guns film, the remake of The Getaway. On the other side of the coin, Paradise director Larry Clark was widely praised for his gritty depiction of streetsmart youngsters in 1995’s Kids. Now Woods and Griffith are joined by relative youngsters Vincent Kartheiser and Natasha Gregson Wagner as not one but two criminal couples in Another Day in Paradise, and the results of all this combined experience are, well, very uneven.

The movie starts out fast, with the credits rolling over Bobby (Kartheiser) getting up from the bed he shares with Rosie (Gregson Wagner) for a bit of change. This pace is welcome, as I loathe credits shown over irrelevant and repetitive opening footage. Bobby breaks into some vending machines at a nearby school and grabs hundreds of dollars in quarters, but an enormous guard catches him and suddenly the two are involved in a fight to the death. Badly beaten, Bobby stumbles home and is given a little bad medicine by “Uncle” Mel (Woods). Soon enough, Woods and his partner Sidney (Griffith) take in the youngsters as partners in crime. “You two Bonnie and Clyde?” Sid jokes. “So are we.”

Paradise’s plot is nothing out of the ordinary. Much of the early going struck me as “prefab,” not exactly clichÉ details but rather whole sections of plot plopped into the script. There are the scenes where the pros take the novices out for a night on the town, and the latter end up high just off the champagne. Woods is all business, though, and keeps the action relatively fresh. “You saved my life,” Bobby says drunkenly.”

“That’s true, kid, but right now let’s concentrate on the not puking thing,” comes Mel’s pragmatic reply.

Meanwhile Sid alternates between being mother and shopping-best-friend to Rosie. Griffith, in another good if straightforward performance as in last year’s much-ignored Lolita, has a role with interesting relationships to the rest of the characters. Besides Rosie’s confidante, she is Bobby’s protector and Mel’s often-spiteful companion. These pieces don’t really add up, though, and when Sid coyly gives macho boss Mel the cold shoulder the movie looks more like suburban social commentary than rowdy drug drama, which is what it mostly attempts to be. Similarly, Bobby, looking much like Leonardo DiCaprio a few years ago, plays a grizzled young thief capable of fighting to the death and killing in cold blood. At other points Bobby is depicted as an all-too-caring expectant father, and as a wet-behind-the-ears novice who can’t contain his excitement at the prospect of a few-thousand-dollars job. Natasha Gregson Wagner is apt in the early role of a giddy young thief’s lover, but flounders in the muddled later sections. Woods is the old reliable for the most part, though even he looks cartoony at times, such as when we are asked to believe he rages with anger at his life having been needlessly endangered, yet all he does is smack the getaway car’s seats a lot.

Along with these jarring but amusing lapses, a few small roles add variety. Brent Briscoe, who expertly handled savage-in-check Lou in A Simple Plan, plays a threatening gang member who unfortunately has only the least appealing aspects of the Lou character. On the positive side, James Otis gives a delightful performance as a gun-dealing Reverend and doctor who genuinely seems to care for Bobby, though there is certainly no real weight to this parody of a role. Lou Diamond Phillips also shows up in one very strange role, but to say his character is one-dimensional would be both an understatement and oversimplification.

There is quite a bit of violence and blood, though nothing out of the ordinary, the swearing proceeds at a deafening clip. There is also a lot of “tongue action;” at random points when characters have nothing better to do they seem to be compelled to display their tongues to each other. That is, indeed, not quite enough to keep things moving. Director Larry Clark also gets in a strangely joyful focus on some scenes which are not really very joyful, but happen to involve the youngsters. In the end, figuring out which ingredients in this undercooked confection were stirred by Woods and which by Clark may be more engaging than watching Paradise, but the movie is convoluted enough to keep the challenge interesting.