Paradise City (2022)
Directed by Chuck Russell
Written by Corey Large, Edward John Drake, Chuck Russell
Starring John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Stephen Dorff, Blake Jenner
Release Date November 11th, 2022
Published November 9th, 2022
The effort that Director Chuck Russell puts into not putting John Travolta and Bruce Willis on screen together, despite their being co-stars in the new movie Paradise City, might have been better used trying to make a good movie. But, that's just wishful thinking. No, instead of bothering to make a good movie, Russell spends loads of time creating scenarios that led to his stars never sharing the screen at the same time. Why? Who knows. I'm not familiar with whether or not there is some issue between Willis and Travolta.
All I do know is that there is a scene in the movie Paradise City where Travolta and Willis's characters, a wanted international criminal who underwent serious facial reconstruction, and the world's greatest bounty hunter respectively, are supposed to be sitting in a restaurant together. It's a flashback to an important face to face showdown that is edited to have only given us a vague sense that perhaps the two stars had been in the same room at the same time.
The... inelegant, to be charitable, camera and editing gymnastics that keep Travolta and Willis from having to breathe the same air in the same room are the most notable thing about Paradise City. Like me, if you waste your time watching this Z-Grade thriller you will spend most of that time wondering why Travolta and Willis never share the screen, even when their characters are supposed to be in the same room having an important confrontation.
The movie opens with Bruce Willis in a car racing along some Hawaiian roadway. He crashes and retrieves a hooded figure from the trunk. He drags this hooded figure to the beach and waits for the people chasing him to come along. He tries to reason with, what appear to be corrupt members of law enforcement, Willis' go-to late in career villains, before he's forced to release his hostage and is subsequently brought down in a hale of bullets.
The hooded prisoner is Travolta but we only find that out later when we see the aftermath of the shooting, Willis's bounty hunter miraculously survives, and with Willis fully out of frame and dying in the ocean, the hood comes off to reveal Travolta. Again, I don't know if there is some kind of beef between Willis and Travolta, it's just this weird choice the movie made. Perhaps they could save money by shooting their most expensive cast members separately, that seems logical, but regardless, it's deeply distracting and with the remaining cast headed up by Blake Jenner and Dollar Store Christian Slater impersonator, Stephen Dorff, it's easy to get distracted.
Blake Jenner is the ostensible star of Paradise City as a young bounty hunter and the son of Willis's character. He comes to Hawaii to investigate his father's murder and perhaps collect the massive bounty that his dad was there to collect. He hooks up with Dorff, another Hawaii based bounty hunterm and a local detective come love interest, played by Praya Lundberg, for their part of the story which will lead them to Travolta as the likely culprit behind Willis' seeming murder and a convoluted scheme to steal land from indigenous Hawaiians.
This, I believe, is the last of Bruce Willis's films made after the announcement that he would be ending his acting career due to his medical condition, Aphasia. I must say, he's somehow more engaged and invigorated in this film than he's been in his other late career movies. I've become a regular expert in late period Willis and director Chuck Russell appears to have gotten Willis to a place where he doesn't appear bored or on auto-pilot or very obviously being fed his lines. It's clear that he's struggling, Aphasia effects his ability to read scripts and speak lines, so, that he comes off as well as he does is a testament to his drive and talent and Russell's ability to play to Willis's strengths.
That Willis, with his limitations is better than his young co-stars is a bad sign for the movie. Then again, you probably aren't expecting much from Blake Jenner, a heretofore little known member of the Jenner clan. The sentient slab of man meat manages to keep his eyes open and doesn't stutter which was the bar I set for him. He pairs well with Stephen Dorff who gets to look like he's actually acting opposite Jenner, if only by comparison. Dorff does the bare minimum in Paradise City, picking up a paycheck and getting out of the film early on as a kidnap victim.
As for Travolta, he is, not surprisingly, the best actor in Paradise City. Even on cruise control, Travolta runs laps around the rest of the cast with his innate charisma and energy. Travolta is still a movie star even as his choice of roles has diminished his bankability. He still knows how to ham it up on screen and given the chance he can still deliver an over the top villain monologue as he's done in numerous better and worse films than Paradise City.
Travolta's appeal however, is not nearly enough to recommend Paradise City. The action flick is far too dimwitted and derivative to recommend. Some audiences might find some mean spirited joy in poking fun at Blake Jenner's bland and vacant lead performance, but the real ironic appeal of Paradise City comes from watching a movie starring John Travolta and Bruce Willis do everything possible not to have the famed actors on screen together. It almost rises to the level of a meta-in joke but not quite. Still, it provides unintended laughs that are the only truly appealing element of Paradise City.
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Very well written. Keep up the good work!
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