Return to Paradise (1998) from Tuna

"Ride me like a Tilt-a-Whirl, cowboy!"

--- Anne Heche to Vince Vaughn in Return to Paradise ---


Return to Paradise is a top-notch thriller based on the French film Force Majeure.

Three guys on vacation in Malaysia team up for the usual young man's pursuits: women, fun, beer and cheap hash. They have a bicycle accident with a rented bicycle and throw it into the jungle, and this seemingly minor incident starts an incredible sequence of events. Two of the guys, Sheriff (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Croft) return to New York almost immediately after the accident, but Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) remains to work in a wildlife refuge. When leaving, Sheriff throws a surplus brick of hash in the trash.

Cut to two years later. Sheriff is a limo driver, and picks up Anne Heche, who turns out to be Lewis's sister. Shortly after his friends left, Lewis had been visited by the authorities and the owner of the bike. While they were there, the police found the hash. Lewis has been in prison for the last two years on a drug trafficking charge, and is due to be hanged in two weeks, unless Sheriff and Tony agree to come back and share the responsibility, in which case everyone will do three years. If only one goes back, it will be six years each. The film is basically about this choice of saving a friend's life by putting yourself in harm's way, or turning your back on him. The story becomes more complicated when Sheriff and Heche become an item, and there is a serious sub-plot with an over-zealous newspaper reporter hungry to cover the story.

All the top critics recommended the film, and so do I. I found it a well-made, engrossing film that made its points without being heavy-handed. The story is excellent, the performances top-notch, and it is a nail-biter start to finish. The only question is, why haven't I heard of it before now? It barely registered a blip on the box office radar, despite the sterling reviews. I don't understand why this film didn't find more of an audience. Perhaps it was the lack of a feel-good Hollywood ending that turned the popcorn crowd off, but I found that a major strength of the film.



  • widescreen transfer, anamorphically enhanced, 2.35:1



Anne Heche shows her breasts in three scenes, but one one of them was edited to remove some nipple exposure

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: 3+ out of four stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4.


The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+, a strong film, but its box office failure demonstrates that it is not for the masses.

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