Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

TRAPPED IN PARADISE Zero stars. Written & directed by George Gallo.
Photography, Jack N. Green. Editing, Terry Rawlings. Production design, Bob Ziembicki. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey, Florence Stanley, Madchen Amick, Donald Moffat, Angela Paton. A 20th Century Fox release. 111 min. Rated PG-13.

Question: What do you mean by "zero stars"?
Answer: Well, two stars mean "fair," one star means "bad," so take it from there...

Q: But that's zero out of four. What about a scale of five or six ?
A: No change.

Q: What's so awful about this movie?
A: Only the plot, script, performances, direction and production.

Q: Can you describe the plot?
A: You can't, nor explain it. Still. It is about the three imbecilic Firpo brothers. John Lovitz and Dana Carvey are thieves released on parole in the custody of brother Nicolas Cage. Lovitz is hyper and a fast-talking pathological liar. Carvey is hyper and a pathological kleptomaniac. Cage is hyper, twitchy and a restaurant manager.

Q: Stop. Is Cage also a crook?
A: He seems to have been one, and now tries to go straight, but his character is very muddled by the script. To go on. For flimsy reasons, the three brothers drive to the small town of Paradise, Pennsylvania. This turns out to be another scam, one perpetrated by Lovitz and Carvey on Cage, whom they want along in order to rob a bank.

Q: How can they manage a heist if they are idiots?
A: One does not preclude the other and, what's more, Paradise is full of idiots: The police chief's son (who is also a deputy), a crooked storekeeper and his slow-witted sidekick ( his son maybe, I don't know) who are deputies too, and so on. The bank people are not exactly bright either. The town of Paradise was meant as a gentler, kinder, idealized and idyllic place, but unlike the best of Frank Capra, this film equates goodness and stupidity.

Q: What happens after the robbery?
A: A lot. So much that the movie goes in all directions, especially with the involvement of Feds, local cops, plus escaped convicts who arrive, with the Firpo Brothers' mother kidnapped by them, and at one point, stuffed in the car's trunk. Stolen cars, from the film's start, figure prominently and irrationally too. But then everything is irrational, although the madness is artificial and even then there is no method to it.

Q: OK. Let's cut to the chase.
A: There is more than one chase, but the upshot is that the brothers feel bad because the people in Paradise --who, improbably, don't know that the Firpos were the thieves-- are so darn nice to them. There is also a super-pallid, super-sketchy love interest.

Q: Hold it. Are you using "darn" instead of the real thing to imply that the picture is family-oriented, with clean language?
A: When some of the angelic denizens of Paradise speak yes, otherwise no. One example is when the kidnappers call Ma Firpo a witch. She says: " I wish I was. I'd stick my broomstick up your a.." Except that she doesn't put periods after "a". (That line, by the way, gets the most audience laughs, which are few in any case).

Q: What about the actors?
A: Roles so embarrassingly bad and inconsistent sink all the performers. How sad to waste so much talent! Think of the terrific Nicolas Cage in everything he's been in, including that great little movie "Red Rock West"; of Lovitz in "A League of Their Own"; of Carvey doing Bush and Perot; of Moffat as the U.S. President in "Clear and Present Danger." Only Angela Paton as banker Moffat's sweet wife comes through unhurt.

Q: Carvey too, you say?
A: Yes. You can't rely on a one-joke repetition (stealing compulsively) and on high-pitched maniacal cackle for a whole movie the way you can for TV sketches.

Q: Who made this film?
A: George Gallo, whose only previous feature was "29th Street," and who wrote the scenarios for "Midnight Run" and "Wise Guys."

Q: Have you nothing good to say about this film?
A: Yes I do. It opens most promisingly, with the montage of a lost wallet being kicked by unaware pedestrians and finally picked up by Cage. Then Cage goes to a church, where between him and the priest at the confessional you get a very funny, original sequence. Ditto for Lovitz trying to cajole the parole board. And when Cage gets his brothers from prison and Lovitz picks up a huge anti-theft device inside Cage's wreckmobile, the absurdity is clever.

Q: Doesn't this good stuff call for a rating above zero?
A: Not when for the first 10 minutes you have to pay the price of 101 more in a Paradise that becomes Hell.

Copyright Edwin Jahiel & the News-Gazette