Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, April 13, 1999

File photo
Starring in "Beyond Paradise" are, from left, Roy Newton,
Daryl Bonilla, Priscilla Basque, Lorenzo Callender and "Kalani."

‘Paradise’ goes
beyond believable


Bullet Beyond Paradise
Bullet Stars: 1
Bullet Rated: Not Rated
Bullet Playing at: Kahala, Kapolei, Pearl West

By Burl Burlingame


FRANCOIS Truffaut noted you could just about tell what a film was going to be like from the first few minutes.

Let's see, in the beginning of "Beyond Paradise," there's Mark, this fey high school kid who returns home early from a concert and discovers his divorced dad making out with a woman in the living room. The event is treated with the kind of crushing angst that makes the discovery of Nazi death camps seem mild by comparison. Mark bursts into tears and toddles aimlessly up and down a highway, making bleating noises and flapping his wrists in butterfly motions.

The next thing we know he's going to Konawaena High on the Big Island, where the locals mill about menacingly, like psychotic buffalo. The first thing Mark witnesses is a schoolyard beating so brutal it's a surprise he's not in Kosovo.

Let's see -- we've got that ancient and rarely effective movie cliche, the fish out of water. The movie lurches from point to point in a manner that suggests script confusion, visual illiteracy and phone-it-in direction. And we've got a hero who's such a simpering wuss that audience members would gladly dribble him across the schoolyard themselves.

You can see the sodden arc this film makes from the first frame.

Guess what happens next: Mark manages to befriend some local brahs, and they all learn from one another and become better human beings. Even the local boy who kills another kid has softened up enough by final reel to shed a tear over his actions. Boo hoo.

The screenplay, by David Walker, smells like a personal experience that has been lightly grafted to film. The problem with this approach is that Mark, the central character, is a focal point, not a character. It's a blind spot. Things happen through him, not to him.

Anyone who remembers tense moments during kill-haole day in school will be able to identify with parts of "Beyond Paradise." But there aren't many for whom kill-haole day was the defining moment in their lives.

The other characters, the locals, are more vividly drawn. The haole boy -- the movie should actually be titled "Wassup, haole boy?" you hear it so often -- is such a conduit to the Hawaii experience for mainland audiences that he should be driving a tour bus.

The locals are observed, not joined with, as if they are aliens under glass, or creatures in a zoo. Sometimes this approach works, as in "Dances With Wolves," but it always carries a patronizing odor. Actually, the movie should be called "Dances With Mokes."

The Hawaiian kids in "Beyond Paradise" are living in a rough world, one that contrasts the physical beauty of their environment with poverty, drug use, aimlessness, ennui and racial animosity. The movie reduces this to the level of an after school special; it's never as tough as it thinks it is.

When "Paradise" guesses wrong, it does so in a loony way. Example: The girlfriend is a drug addict, a drunk, a teen-age mother, not a bad student, AND runs a hula halau. Who in a hula halau has time to get wasted?

Another scene: A boy's father trashes a house while the family sits outside and sings -- of all things -- "Hawai'i Pono'i."

The movie also misses an obvious bet -- a kickin' soundtrack of Jawaiian tunes. Instead, L.A. barrio beats creep in here and there. Occasionally, there's a tickle of slack-key.

Good news: Unlike the charisma-challenged star, local actors Priscilla Basque, Lorenzo Callender, Kalani and Daryl Bonilla have screen oomph to burn.

And, unlike any film in memory, the pidgin spoken by the kids sounds right. It's not that weird sing-song that Hollywood imagines people in Hawaii speak.

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