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Would you give up years of your life in order to save the life of some dude you used to get high with? Even if he was a little Granola Wienie?

This moral dilemma is at the core of the new "feel good" movie of the year, Return To Paradise.

Here's the juice. Vince Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix and some other stud are in Malaysia partying their behinds off. They drink, they smoke, they womanize. I was proud of them. Then Vince and Stud go home and little Joaquin gets arrested for having way too much hash. In fact, he has so much hash that he qualifies as a dealer and they're gonna kill him. So two years later, lawyer Anne Heche finds Vince and Stud and tells them that if they go back and share in the responsibility (after all, it was their hash too), then Little Granola Wienie doesn't die, but they all get put in prison for three years.

Hence the dilemma.

You want hard choices? Then this baby is for you. Question: Do you place yourself in a third world jail for three years to save this guy? Question: Do you print a story that'll be huge for your career but could possibly cost a man his life? Question: Can you get involved with a woman who may just be sleeping with you to get you to do what she wants? (Okay, that's a pretty normal dilemma. And of course the answer is always yes.)

Heck, the most difficult thing I tend to decide each day is whether to have gin or vodka in my Martini.

This is a character-driven piece, which means that we actually pay attention to the acting in the movie. (In the common action blasts, the acting is secondary to... well, to just about everything.) So how was the acting? Pretty good. Kudos to Joaquin Phoenix for being abused. Kudos to Vince Vaughn for being a manly-man. Kudos to Anne Heche for being a really good lesb...actress. Sorry.

Actually, a lot of kudos go out to Mrs. Heche, because she's really good in this movie. I mean really good. No nipples or anything. She's really becoming a very good actress, and I can't wait to see more of her.

The kicker about this flick is that it divides itself in half. Two-thirds of the movie is set in New York, and the time in the Big Apple is OK, not great, not horrible, just OK. But then they go to Malaysia, and this film becomes about as intense as anything you've ever seen. In fact, once the film is over, you have completely forgotten the first two-thirds of the film, because the final third stay with you for a long, long time. It is worth the price of admission for this fantastic finale. It really is.

Now me, I would have just cut the whole New York bit to about 10 minutes and made myself a half-hour segment for PBS or something. I mean think of the money they could have saved on the budget! And if they still had the need to spend more money, they could, like, buy everyone massages or something! What were they thinking?

But they had a choice to make, and made the tough decision, and created a full-length feature, without full body massages. And that, as much as anything, sums up what this movie is about. Making the hard choices. Making the hard sacrifice. My hats off to them, I would've taken the rub.

Return to Paradise gets 3 2/3 Babylons. The Malaysia bits alone get about 4 , but they spend an awfully long time in New York agonizing over the decision, so it brings the rating down. Their loss. I'm sure they're shaking in misery over my ruling, but they had a choice to make, and they made it. They have to live with it.

Editor's Note:

The biggest choice I have is whether to poison The Critic with arsenic or cyanide when he asks me to fetch his drink.

I'm open to suggestions.

Return To Paradise
Rated: R
Directed By: Joseph Ruben
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix, Some Other Young Stud, and A Choice.

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