July 18, 2013

Another Day in Paradise (1998)
Grade: 69/100

Director: Larry Clark
Stars: James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Vincent Kartheiser

What it's about. Since there are no cellphones, the story presumably takes place circa 1982. Bobbie (Vincent Kartheiser) and Rosie (Natasha Gregson Wagner, a daughter of Natalie Wood) are teen junkies and lovers. Bobbie supports their habit by breaking into vending machines at night.

Following an unfortunate encounter with a security guard, Bobbie is attended by Mel (James Wood), a middle-aged alcoholic and a relative of Bobbie's roommate. Mel unwisely decides that Bobbie would make a good partner for a crime spree.

Soon, Bobbie and Rosie are on the road with Mel and his lover Sid (Melanie Griffith), who seems altogether too nice to be in this line of work. A successful robbery of a clinic leads to gun purchases from eccentric "reverend" James Otis. The prospect of a big score arises courtesy of gay sadist Jewels (an oddly uncredited Lou Diamond Phillips). But events do not go as planned, resulting in several murders and an overdose.

The score consists of soul performances, which range from great (Otis Redding) to merely weird (later day Bob Dylan and a Sun City Girls cover of "Me & Mrs. Jones"). Clarence Carter of "Patches" fame shows up singing in a nightclub.

How others will see it. Another Day in Paradise was a box office flop, despite a marketable crime theme and the presence of stars Woods and Griffith. The film drew mixed reviews and received little notice from all but the most obscure film festivals.

Today at imdb.com the film has a middling 6K user votes and an okay-to-good user rating of 6.4. The grades, while unexceptional, are at least consistent across all demographics. User reviews complain most often about the profanity and violence and a sense of "seen it before" "crime doesn't pay" filmmaking.

How I felt about it. Natasha Gregson Wagner is nice to look at, but the draw here is James Woods, playing a gangster (though on a smaller scale) as he did in Once Upon a Time in America. Woods has enough charisma and attitude to put the film over, while Vincent Kartheiser is fully credible as a none-too-bright punk. It is difficult to reconcile Griffith's sweet demeanor with her ability to gun down hardened criminals, and her innate sense of right and wrong makes her (as well as Bobbie) unlikely to succeed as a thief and drug dealer.

Within the "gang of four," it is the leader, Mel, who is out of place. He is ruthless in his search for the elusive big score that will lead to a comfortable life. The other three pretend they have formed a makeshift family, an illusion that can be maintained in good times but not when the chips are down. Ultimately, Mel only cares about himself, and sticks with Sid only because she is both loyal and useful.

The most curious decision by the director is to kill off Rosie two-thirds through the movie. In fact, she is the only lead that dies. She is least likely to die since her role is merely the layabout lover of Bobbie. Is her overdose suicidal or accidental? It appears to be suicidal, since she is distraught that Bobbie has temporarily left her to commit crimes, but he has done so many times before. This is what he does for a living.

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