What’s a nice young Christian woman to do after surviving a plane crash? Go to Vegas, of course -- especially when winning a large settlement from an airplane company! Paradise follows the adventures of Lamb, played by Julianne Hough, as she tries to experience all the sinful pleasures denied her before that tragic accident left her body covered with ugly burn scars. Lamb, who grew up in a rural area of Montana and was raised in a conservative religious family, was home schooled and never even went to a dance. To her, Las Vegas seems the right place to find all sins in one location. After all, it’s not called Sin City for nothing.
Soon after arriving in Vegas, Lamb meets two unusual characters who take an interest in her. William (Russell Brand), a friendly bartender, seems charmed by her lack of experience with the world. Loray (Octavia Spencer), a cynical singer, agrees to show her the “real” Vegas. The film then meanders through various Vegas locations, highlighting Lamb’s reactions to taking part in such sins as smoking, partying, gambling, boozing, dancing, etcetera. Unfortunately, there’s no energy or excitement to her personal mission. Still, the appealing camaraderie among this motley trio shines through all the dreary situations they find themselves in.
To me, a film about Las Vegas should never be boring. And that’s what disappoints me most about Paradise. Plus, an early church scene (stolen by Holly Hunter, who portrays Lamb’s mom) shocked and amused me so much that I began to expect great things from the rest of this dramedy directed and written by Diablo Cody, whose Juno screenplay won a well-deserved Oscar. However, losing one’s faith and plane crash injuries do not lend themselves to comic treatment, which probably explains why Paradise fails to work as an entertaining offering despite its glitzy setting.
Julian Hough’s (Footloose) performance appears restrained throughout much of the film, and we hear her lovely voice only at the beginning and end of the movie. Her best scene involves an emotional conversation with a prostitute (Kathleen Rose Perkins). This is where we see Hough’s potential as a dramatic actress. She makes Lamb real to us here – and we finally care about what happens to her. Russell Brand’s (Get Him to the Greek) humorous British delivery evokes a few smiles, but his dialogue doesn’t feel right most of the time. For example, after William takes Lamb to a hotel room, she says, “Will we do it here?” He answers, “Will we do what here?” Duh.
Octavia Spencer (Oscar winner for The Help) emerges as the most fascinating character in Paradise. Her Loray is fun to watch, particularly when she insists on singing a song SHE wants instead of an Aretha Franklin tune demanded by her audience. Loray’s background in Film Studies also intrigues us, and it’s easy to tell that her sarcastic comments are a defense mechanism covering her sensitivity.
Will Lamb, William and Loray be changed for the better because of their Sin City friendship? What will Lamb do with all her money? How will Lamb’s crisis of faith be resolved?
Paradise wants to inspire viewers, but I can't help wishing the film’s uplifting message arrived as part of a more engaging story.
(Released by RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment and rated “PG-13” for sexual material, substance abuse, some language and thematic elements.)
For more information about Paradise, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.