Saturday, 25 December 2010

The ERH Xmas Film: Trapped in Paradise (1994)

... a vivid purgatorial holding-pattern of dark Capra-esque whimsy scripted by an MC Escher riding the acid-fried black helix of some ultimate despair...

Trapped In Paradise (George Gallo, 1994)

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey, Mädchen Amick, Nicky ‘Pops’ Anest, Bunty Webb

Tagline: ‘Small Town… Big Trouble!’

Trailers: Star Wars Trilogy, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Miracle on 34th Street, Far From Home, Stargate

Cherrypick: “I couldn’t live with myself if I froze a horse...”

'Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."' Genesis 4: 1-8
If, like ERH, you are an eldest brother or sister, you will know that the one cold, hard fact of your cruelly overextended cameo of a life is that after a certain age your younger kinfolk will inevitably come to view you as an embarrassing, archaic and desiccating wreck; a grungy no-mark with a bought‘n’paid-for beer-gut spilling out of a cap-sleeve Allman Brothers tour-T and an unshakable miasma of pity and regret enshrouding both you and your vinyl collection – that tawdry anthology of Stone Age grooves from which you are by now entirely indistinguishable. When you are no longer needed to score them stash or bongo, then - like the oft-related dream of the Fisher King - your suzerainty over their hearts becomes a frail and nominal vestige, and your only remaining duty is to pick your way to the grim noblesse of the grave and there await the sweet release of usurpation. 


In the ERH cartooniverse, however, an older brother is, without exception, ‘looked up to.’ Think of Rumblefish's Motorcycle Boy; think Rain Man; think Money Train... What? Eh? Oh...
Shady ways
This toothsome 1994 Sunday-afternooner is a classic slice of mid-period Cage that sees the droll long-face merchant essay embattled NY restaurateur and reformed scofflaw Bill - eldest of those scurvy, shyster rat-bastards, the Firpo boys. Bill has been ardently clinging to the straight and narrow until one Christmas Eve his two brothers, Alvin (Carvey) and Dave (the never-loveable Lovitz), get out of jail with nothing to their names but the Santa outfits they were originally pinched in and a foolproof plan to rob the Savings and Loan of the sleepy little backwater burg of Paradise.

Bill is swiftly caught up in the termless shitstorm his doting but recidivist brethren seem congenitally incapable of outrunning, and soon all three are on the lam. With their options running out faster than a paediatrician past a provincial playground, and in a state of highest dudgeon, they literally plough into Paradise where, employing a slick array of ski-masks, stun grenades and unbridled histrionics, they take down the town bank. The successful heist, however, turns out to be just the beginning of their troubles, and the sum of all our fears.  
The family resemblance is stunning, don't you think?
The snow comes down, the roads are closed and - summarily banjaxed in their attempts to flee - the Firpos are thrown into a vivid purgatorial holding-pattern of dark Capra-esque whimsy scripted by an MC Escher riding the acid-fried black helix of some ultimate despair. We are left to look on uncomprehendingly as these sociopathic repeat-offenders are made to realise the error of their ways by the big-hearted generosity of a town entirely populated with gurning, credulous simpletons…

Forgotten man Carvey puts in an effortless, faultless and entirely pointless ninety-minute Mickey Rourke impression from behind the beatific smile of the chemically castrated while Lovitz loafs distractedly through every scene surreptitiously looking for something to cram into his pie-hole. The whole affair generally tiffs along quite amiably, but, like being Mickey Finned and then clumped repeatedly in the bathing suit-area with a sock full of clock parts, this cromulant aria to the redemptive capacity of queasy down-home values leaves you sore without ever knowing quite why.
Rourke drift
Cage, who like Olivier before him seems destined to spend his entire career discovering that he just doesn’t have the chops to play a regular Joe, delivers his lines through tears of confusion brought on by the dawning realisation that the elephantine frippery of Trapped in Paradise (aka Bruthaz in Armz) - allied to an upcoming slate featuring such home-runs as Guarding Tess, It Could Happen To You and Amos and Andy (no, us neither) – might very well permanently settle his Hollywood hash.

As one of history’s more famous elteren brüder, JFK, once said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men." It is a lesson that applies to all older brothers, older sisters. Cage would seem to have learnt it in time for his mullet-brained late-Nineties action hero refit: had he learnt it sooner, perhaps his critical Bill might have prevented Dave and Alvin being fatally gutshot whilst setting up a snuff-movie ring in the neighbouring town of Peevish during a harsh post-credits epilogue added at the studio’s insistence. 

A happy Christmas? No such thing...

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