“Return to Paradise” (based on the 1990 French film “Force Majeure”) is a complex, yet thought provoking film about three college grads, Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) and Tony (David Conrad), who befriend each other while vacationing in Malaysia. The trio’s vacation includes nothing out of the ordinary … drinking booze, smoking hash, partying … generally the kind of actions one would expect from recent college grads. The vacation reaches it’s conclusion and the three must part ways to begin their respective lives. Sheriff and Tony leave for America while Lewis stays to pursue the studies of endangered orangutans. Two years pass when Sheriff is aproached by attorney Beth Eastern (Anne Heche). Eastern bluntly confronts Sheriff with the realization that Lewis has been imprisoned for the last two years on a drug charge, a charge which all three were guilty, and because of the large amount of hash, the sentence is death … to be carried out in eight days. Lewis’ only hope is to ask one or both of his friends to venture back to Malaysia and accept their share of the punishment … punishment that would entail a maximum six year prison sentence.
The film asks the question: “Would you give up possibly six years of your life in a third world prison, putting your OWN life in jeopardy, to POssIBLY save the life of a friend?” A tough question to answer considering the fact that the film does not give the viewer enough background on any of the three characters, or at least establish enough of a friendship between the three to demand such a sacrifice. Although there are a few other flaws in the film (flaws that will not be mentioned since it would give away major plot points) and the lack of character development is a major oversight by the filmmakers, “Return to Paradise” still manages to grip you until the fateful ending, an ending that is very powerful and must be witnessed to be believed.
Vince Vaughn finally gives a performance putting him in the serious actor category, Joaquin Phoenix is notable and Anne Heche is believable as the impassioned attorney fighting for the life of her client.