As a genuine change of pace, Don Johnson leaves behind the shoot-'em-up films he's been making since he left TV's "Miami Vice" and plunges headlong into the genre Hollywood used to refer to as "weepies."
In "Paradise," Johnson and real-life wife Melanie Griffith play a rural couple who have grown apart since the death of their toddler son a couple of years earlier. But when a quiet, intelligent 10-year-old city boy (Elijah Wood) comes to stay for two weeks, he unintentionally forces them to come to terms with their feelings for each other.
In some ways, "Paradise" plays like a made-for-TV movie modest budget, modest expectations, modest results. But the sincerity of the performances and the charm of the players help bring the material to a higher level than it might otherwise have achieved.
Mary Agnes Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay for Goldie Hawn's "Deceived," as well as Bette Midler's hit "Beaches," also wrote and makes her directing debut with "Paradise," an Americanization of the French film "Le Grand Chemin (The Grand Highway)."
The film is a faithful adaptation of its source, right down to the unnecessary scene where the kids watch Billie's sister having sex in the barn. (Disney's French-film remakes never seem to make the films better; they just make them again.)
That is, it's faithful except for one very important area: "Le Grand Chemin" is about the boy, not the adults. And that film's greatest pleasure is derived from the tomboy next door showing the lad how to unobtrusively observe adult behavior, which ultimately leads to his acceptance of his own parents' troubled marriage.
"Paradise," on the other hand, leans a bit too far toward Johnson and Griffith's relationship. Where the French film showed the couple's problems leading the boy to a voyage of self-discovery, the American version seems to be more about the boy leading Johnson and Griffith to that voyage.
Donoghue also tosses away any opportunity for developing supporting characters and never really settles on a point of view is it the boy's or Griffith's or Johnson's. Worse, her dialogue for the children especially for tomboy Billie (Thora Birch) sounds less like kids having casual conversation than like words written by an adult.
Still, there are some things to savor here, including the genuine chemistry between Johnson and Griffith, whose performances are restrained and believable; the comic relief provided by Sheila McCarthy ("I Heard the Mermaids Singing") as the ditzy next-door neighbor; and especially the performances of the kids Elijah Wood and Thora Birch.
Wood is superb, a really natural young actor who never behaves like a Hollywood kid. (Wood had a prominent role in "Avalon" and stars in the upcoming "Radio Flyer.") And Birch has the film's most genuinely touching moment, when she confronts her father for the first time and he rejects her.
"Paradise" is rated PG-13 for sex, nudity, some vulgar remarks and a few scattered profanities.
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