Paradise: Film Review

The Vegas-set redemption story falls flat.

Julianne Hough, Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer star in Diablo Cody's directing debut about a good girl trying to go bad.

A straight-and-narrow naif whose faith is challenged by personal tragedy tries to will herself into misbehavior in Diablo Cody's Paradise, only to learn she can't make herself something she's not. The film, the screenwriter's first as director, feels pretty inauthentic itself: a feel-good film about finding sources of goodness outside religion, in which neither highs nor lows register deeply and unconvincing characters fill slots as tidy as that of the "magical negro" derided midway through the film. Stars like Russell Brand will attract some notice, but the unsatisfying pic will soon shuffle off the mortal coil toward VOD.

A sizable chunk of talent is wasted in the supporting cast, arrayed around a central character who is thinly conceived by Cody and flatly portrayed by Julianne Hough. Lamb, a perky blonde Christian who was homeschooled and protected from any whiff of worldly culture, is badly burned in a plane crash (tellingly, scars cover everything but her Barbie-like face) and, deciding no God could have done this to her, decides to run off to Vegas and do everything her religion forbids.

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Her misbehavior is checklist, rather than impulse-driven, though. Lamb feels no curiosity about what booze will do to her, no need to shake her hips, no lust to vent her anger in expletives or sate her passions in a man's arms. That's unfortunate for the first bartender she meets: William (Brand) would be quite happy to defile her, if only her to-the-bone innocence didn't bring out big-brother instincts. He and lounge singer Loray (Octavia Spencer) follow Lamb through the city's tourist sector and beyond, trying to help the kid loosen up while steering her clear of trouble. (No real sense of danger ever darkens the skies here, even when Lamb ditches her chaperones and starts guzzling straight vodka to wash down her pain pills in a bar full of horny bros.)

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Surprisingly little wit makes its way into a script whose formula is always clear, even to some of the characters enacting it. Shockingly, Cody actually has her heroine deliver lightbulb-moment lines like "I realized that everybody has scars" with a straight face, as if the filmmaker were hedging her bets -- trying to make the film saleable to family-friendly cable channels in case nobody wanted to show this limp effort in theaters.

Production Company: Mandate Pictures

Cast: Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer, Holly Hunter, Nick Offerman

Director-Screenwriter: Diablo Cody

Producers: Mason Novick

Executive producers: Diablo Cody, Nathan Kahane

Director of photography: Tim Suhrstedt

Production designer: Laura Fox

Music: Rachel Portman

Costume designer: Mary Claire Hannan

Editor: Myron I. Kerstein

PG-13, 86 minutes

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