The title of writer/director George Gallo's new film is Trapped in Paradise. I certainly felt like I was trapped somewhere, but paradise wouldn't have been my guess. This execrable attempt at a farce is, I think, the second-worst big-studio comedy of the year, surpassed only by Exit to Eden for embarrassing awfulness. Is the similarity of their titles mere coincidence?

The stars are Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey, playing brothers. The latter two are paroled crooks--brainless, incorrigible smalltimers. The former is a restaurant manager who has, maybe, half a brain, and some rudimentary sense that it's sort of wrong to steal. Through a series of convolutions, these three New Yorkers end up spending Christmas Eve in a small town in Pennsylvania, where they find a bank that's such a pushover that even Cage can't resist sticking it up. Then a snowstorm strands them in town with the loot, and the insistent hospitality of the yokels shames them into redemption.

The movie's failure can't be blamed on its leads--all three are funny, capable fellows who are visibly doing the best they can, and all three of them wring a laugh or two apiece even out of this material. And as their cranky, slow-burning mother, Florence Stanley hits some of her one-liners dead-on.

That's as far as the cast can be praised, however, even sympathetically. Sustained comic performances aren't possible under direction this rhythmless and clumsy. Gallo lets sequences grind on and on, perhaps under the impression that they're growing more riotous as each laborious complication is added. On a TV set in the background of one scene, a few seconds of The Alligator People can be glimpsed, and the relative competence of Roy Del Ruth's 1959 quickie made me wish that Gallo would zoom in on the screen and let me watch that instead.

The cinematography of Trapped in Paradise is gangrenously ugly, the music is cloying, orchestral syrup and the supporting cast is thrown away. Cage's love interest is Mdchen Amick, one of several young women who, on TV's Twin Peaks, came across like various incarnations of Venus; here she resembles a lacquered mannequin. In a way, though, it's almost a relief that Trapped in Paradise is so hopelessly bad, because it forestalls my annoyance over yet another paean to the kindness and generosity and general moral superiority of small-town Middle America, la It's a Wonderful Life. Of course, many small-town people are kind and generous, but the belief that they are naturally kinder than city people, or naturally less inclined to suspicion or even paranoia, is a silly myth.

I can speak with some authority to the speciousness of this film's testimonial to small-town virtue. I myself grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania not very different from this movie's Paradise. It was--it still is--inhabited by many fine people and good neighbors, but only the naivet of Hollywood could suggest that my hometown is the place where bank robbers should go to be reformed by example.


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