Another Day in Paradise
directed by Larry Clark
(Trimark Pictures, 1998)

In 1995, Larry Clark stunned the film world with KIDS, a frank look at sex among teens in the time of HIV. Three years later he stunned almost no one with Another Day in Paradise, a look at sex, thugs and rock 'n' roll among a crowd that's old enough to know better, but doesn't.

At the center of the action is Mel (James Woods), a fast-talking former army medic who divides his time between stealing and selling drugs, for a very handsome profit. He gets an assist in business and pleasure from his longtime girlfriend, Sid (Melanie Griffith), who has two very bad habits: heroin and Mel.

Their tight little world is shattered one night when a young druggie named Bobbie (Vincent Kartheiser) is caught in mid-heist and beaten to a bloody pulp by a security guard who must have escaped from the WWF. Mel nurses Bobbie back to health, but not out of kindness. Mel needs someone like Bobbie -- small and wiry -- for his next caper -- relieving a clinic of its pharmaceutical supplies.

The resulting film has been compared to everything from Drugstore Cowboy to Bonnie and Clyde, though it lacks the narrative ferocity of the former and the quirky humor of the latter.

At its heart, Another Day in Paradise is a relationship film, complicated by the fact that the relationships among the characters become increasingly intertwined and difficult to manage.

At first, Bobbie is simply Mel's partner. Slowly, he and his drug-addicted girlfriend, Rosie (Natasha Wagner), become the children Mel and Sid could never have. And no one can fight like family.

Another Day in Paradise is shot in cinema-verite style, with lots of wildly swinging camera shots that underscore the instability of Clark's characters. The script seems similarly free-wheeling, with Mel and Sid and Bobbie and Rosie moving from scene to scene with little to prepare them for what's going to happen next.

It's a scattershot technique: sometimes it adds to the tension; sometimes it just confuses things. What it does most effectively is make Paradise a series of set pieces, some of which work, some of which it could do without.

When Mel's attempt to wholesale stolen drugs to a group of bikers goes bad, the resulting shoot-'em-up is nail-biting action at its best. But Bobbie's ad hoc attempt to empty the contents of a roomful of vending machines is pseudo cinema verite at its worst: it's contrived and lacks context. Later, when Rosie pleads with Bobbie not to go out with Mel on his final caper, their lack of anything of substance to say to one another is annoying at best, maddening at worst.

Woods is a powerful actor who's been at the heart of many a powerful film -- Salvador, The Ghosts of Mississippi, The Onion Field, to name a few. A little Woods can go a long way. But even Woods can't cover the ground needed to close the gaps in Another Day in Paradise.

That was Clark's job. Unfortunately, he didn't do it.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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