Although it's hardly up to the level of the superlative Midnight Express, Return to Paradise offers a well-oiled Hollywood take on the venerable foreign-prisons-are-hell genre (see also: Papillon, Brokedown Palace). The script, by Batman Returns scribe Wesley Strick and Jennifer 8 writer/director Bruce Robinson, pushes all the correct, crowd-pleasing emotional buttons. Chief victim Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lovable Greenpeace activist. Reluctant savior Sheriff (Vince Vaughn) must abandon a tentative romance with lawyer Beth (Anne Heche) if he wants to save his former buddy's life. And reporter M.J. (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a plucky professional whose newshound instincts nevertheless have unexpected and negative repercussions. That all of these well-worn emotional arcs resolve into anything but a treacly mess is the result of fine performances from all involved. Credit also goes to director Joseph Ruben -- previously known for the uninspired work-for-hire of Sleeping With the Enemy -- whose low-key realism and moments of melancholy add distinction to the proceedings. Return to Paradise is never less than watchable.
by Brian J. Dillard review