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Polygram presents
Return To Paradise (1998)

"They were my two best friends in the whole world, for five whole weeks. It was a wonder we ever met."
- Sheriff (Vince Vaughn)

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: May 09, 2000

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix
Other Stars: David Conrad, Vera Farminga, Jada Pinkett
Director: Joseph Ruben

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 01h:52m:00s
Release Date: April 27, 1999
UPC: 044005827125
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AA-B C-

DVD Review

In those moments elapsed during the opening credits of Return To Paradise we see five weeks of friendship built between near strangers whose lives forever will be inalterably tied. After weeks of drink, hashish and women, it is time for Tony (David Conrad) and Sheriff (Vince Vaughn) to return to New York City. On the day before their last, the boys rent a bicycle that they ride to town. Lured into a back alley drug deal, Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) and Tony get into a scuffle with a Malaysian gang, when Lewis is put off by the animal contents of the pills. It is the street-smart Sheriff who comes to their rescue. On the way home, the boys on bike veer off the road to avoid an accident with a truck, and the bike is damaged. Less concerned with the deposit than the fact this is the bicycle man's last bike, Lewis attempts to push it home. In a moment of levity, Sheriff, feigning he will help push the bike, instead throws it over the side of a hill.

While smoking the ceremonial last pipe, Lewis tries to convince Sheriff to go on with him to Borneo, to reintroduce orangutans back into the wild. The next morning, as they say their goodbyes, Lewis tries again. "To tell you the truth I don't have that kind of stuff in me," says Sheriff. With that, Sheriff and Tony leave Lewis and their hashish stash behind.

When a lawyer (Anne Heche) tracks them down two years later, Sheriff is driving a limo and Tony is an architect and engaged. We discover that after the two left for New York that fateful morning, the bicycle man had brought the police in search of his unreturned bike, but instead found two stashes of hashish totaling 104 grams. As it turns out, not only has Lewis been rotting in jail the past two years, but also, according to Malaysian law, anyone found to be in possession of over 100 grams of drugs is considered to be trafficking—a capital offense. Lewis Mcbride is scheduled to hang in eight days. The only way to spare Lewis is if his American lawyer can convince either Sheriff or Tony—or both—to return to Malaysia and serve either a combined or single sentence of six years.

Director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy, Money Train) has created a moving and thought-provoking drama far different from his earlier projects. This is a film about the soul and morality and responsibility and loyalty and sacred bonds and love, all that make a friendship versus reality and ambition and fear and ambiguity; this is a film about the decisions that we make and must live with. What would you do for a friend?

Vince Vaughn's (Clay Pigeons, Swingers, Psycho 1998) portrayal of Sheriff is a modern day Hamlet, fraught with competing spirits and oozing with great tactlessness and compassion. Anne Heche (Six Days, Seven Nights, Volcano, Psycho (1998)) is equally superb in a role that requires the appropriate amount of subtlety to be properly effective. Joaquin Phoenix (Clay Pigeons, 8mm) gives an especially heart-wrenching performance as Lewis, his best to date.

"You know I looked inside, deep inside, to find something, but, uh...it isn't in me."

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: This is a double-sided disc, with an un-watched standard version on one side, and the preferred anamorphically (16:9) enhanced 2.35:1 widescreen version on the other. This is a very good transfer, but not without a few problems. Although this is generally a clean print, there are occasional instances of dirt, as well as small amounts of pixelation. Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of aliasing distortion evident, particularly during several outdoor New York shots. A widescreen TV or interpolated downconversion DVD player (i.e., Sony) would preclude the significance of the problem. This may read worse than it is, because otherwise, this is a nice print with nice color rendering in both outdoor and low-lit indoor settings.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: On the other hand, this disc contains audio tracks in Dolby Surround 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1, the latter of which we enjoyed. The musical score is rich and moving, and adds undeniable extravagance to the film. There are not a lot of effects, but the surrounds are used when needed, particularly to enrich the score. Most importantly in a film like this, the dialogue is well rendered and easy to understand.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This disc is fairly devoid of special features, containing only a French language soundtrack, Spanish language subtitles, a theatrical trailer, and cast & filmmaker biographies and filmographies.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Although the lack of extras make this a hard disc to recommend for purchase, the fact is this is one of the more underrated films of 1998, and is deserving of repeat viewing. Return to Paradise contains great performances by Heche, Vaughn, and Joaquin Phoenix. At the very least give this one a try, you should be pleasantly surprised.


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