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‘Trapped in Paradise’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 02, 1994

The question is, can a trio of amiable goofballs take you through a movie that's, well, not so great? "Trapped in Paradise," a heist caper starring Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey, gets lost in a snow flurry of subplots and formulaic run-and-chase -- right around the time you've settled in for a good comedy. But these three noodleheads are so endearing, it seems wrong to dismiss the whole thing.

Jailbirds Lovitz and Carvey have just finished a stretch for robbing a car wash. But their parole confines them to the state of New York. Cage, their relatively reformed brother and custodian, is determined to keep his knuckleheaded sibs in-state and out of trouble. It's a daily occupational hazard: Carvey's an uncontrollable kleptomaniac and Lovitz's a compulsive liar. To make matters worse, Cage's brothers have gotten wind of an easy bank job in Paradise, N.J. All they have to do is hoodwink Cage -- who himself used to steal -- into driving them there.

With a little trickery, they succeed and, when Cage gets a sniff of the $275,000 in the Paradise vault, two robbers become three. But stealing the money is the easy part, it turns out. Flummoxed by snow conditions, the FBI and a crashed getaway car, the criminals are forced to return to Paradise. They discover that the locals -- straight out of Norman Rockwell country -- are the scariest opponents of all. The brothers find themselves face to face with the Christmas spirit and their own guilt.

These guys may not look like each other but, comically, they're family. Lovitz is perfectly cast as the deadpan liar-manipulator, deceit swimming in his eyes like piranhas. Cage has a rather rudimentary Capra-esque evolution -- he falls for hometown Paradise girl Madchen Amick and thinks better of his wicked ways. But he injects the role with that exasperated, engaging nuttiness of his.

Carvey, whose pursed lips and glazed expression suggest Mickey Rourke on helium, is a scream. In a Paradise general store, he decides to steal the toy at the bottom of a box of Cap'n Crunch. His attempt to look nonchalant, as nuggets cascade around him, may be worth the price of admission.

Writer/director George Gallo, who scripted the funny "Midnight Run," introduces too many elements. In addition to the main event, we're obliged to follow the developments of Amick, good-hearted banker Donald Moffat, scheming deputies Paul Lazar and Andrew Miller, and a never-ending procession of FBI agents, cops and townspeople. These folk don't add to the movie. They crowd it.

But that, my friends, is what video rentals are for: "Trapped in Paradise" is the kind of movie you want to watch, fast-forward button at the ready. Although the second half is cluttered with skidding squad cars (in eternal pursuit of the bank robbers) and smiling faces (constantly killing the fugitives with kindness), you never know when something funny is coming along. In one of the countless subplots, two mobsters -- determined to steal that loot -- kidnap the brothers' hard-as-nails mother (Florence Stanley), throw her into the car and head for Paradise. When one hoodlum calls her by her first name, she goes ballistic: " 'Edna'? 'Edna'? Are we sleeping together? I think not. It's Mrs. Firpo to you."

"Trapped in Paradise" contains profanity.

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