Paraiso Travel -- Film Review

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Jorge Franco's novel about a young Colombian couple who take a shot at the American Dream and land at the far side of paradise has made a vibrant transition to the big screen courtesy of acclaimed commercial and music video director Simon Brand.

Although the stranger-in-a-strange-land theme of alienation certainly is a well-traveled one in contemporary cinema, it's seldom portrayed with the combination of bracing vitality and gritty authenticity as it is in "Paraiso Travel."

A boxoffice hit on its native soil and named best film by the audience and jury of last year's Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, the independent limited release should solidly score with targeted Hispanic demos.

Brand wastes little time in establishing the heady atmosphere with a vivid opening-credits sequence that places illegal immigrants Marlon (Aldemar Correa) and his girlfriend, Reina (Angelica Blandon), in a particularly dispiriting section of Jackson Heights, Queens.

But in their bid to make a better life for themselves, they end up losing each other in the process, leaving Marlon to fight for survival while fruitlessly searching the big city for any sign of Reina.

What might have been an expectedly bleak and downbeat scenario proves anything but in the hands of Brand and screenwriters Juan Rendon and the book's author, Franco, who have smartly let those uniquely genuine neighborhood rhythms set the picture's appealing pulse.

There are a couple of skipped beats -- particularly a twist ending that comes off a tad abrupt and somewhat forced -- but for the most part Brand and his editor Alberto de Toro do an efficient job in intertwining several time spans, including some harrowing human-smuggling sequences.

And though lead Correa tends to play his naive character with the same, wounded-puppy note throughout, there is no shortage of colorful performances, including a seriously deglamorized Margarita Rosa de Francisco as a sex-starved alcoholic and Bogota-born John Leguizamo clearly enjoying one of his best roles in years as Correa's affably seedy squatter landlord.

Opens: Friday, July 24 (Phase 4 Films)
Production: Paraiso Pictures, Grand Illusions Entertainment
Cast: Aldemar Correa, Angelica Blandon, Ana de la Reguera, John Leguizamo
Director: Simon Brand
Screenwriters: Juan Rendon, Jorge Franco
Executive producers: Jonathan Sanger, Ed Elbert, Sarah Black, Jorge Perez
Producers: Santiago Diaz, Juan Rendon, Alex Pereira, Isaac Lee Director of photography: Rafa Lluch
Production designers: Miguel Angel Alvarez
Music: Angelo Milli
Costume designer: Sandra Camacho
Editor: Alberto de Toro
Rated R, 110 minutes
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