1999, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan. Starring Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Pullman, Daniel Lapaine, Lou Diamond Phillips, Amanda De Cadanet, John Doe.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 13, 1999
Life is full of choices. By way of illustration, you have the option of undergoing a root canal over viewing Brokedown Palace. Or, if your dentist is unavailable for a withering bout of painful oral scouring, you could perhaps undertake a series of home experiments with an eye toward discovering why, exactly, lye is harmful to your retinas. Things like that. Choices, especially those which are options over attending a screening of Brokedown Palace, are myriad. All this, I suppose, is a roundabout way of telling you that Kaplan's lustily awful film is to be avoided if at all possible, and if not, well, don't say I didn't warn you. The alarming thing about Kaplan's film is how stridently mediocre it is, despite having a talented director and well-above-average cast. For all the hysterical brouhaha and plot contrivances, there's just not much going on at the Palace, though surely Kaplan and writer David Arata would like to think otherwise. Danes, fresh off the equally disastrous The Mod Squad, and Beckinsale (The Last Days of Disco) play Alice and Darlene, a giddy pair of just-out-of-high-schoolers looking for that one special vacation destination to seal their last summer together before university life begins. Darlene, the responsible one, opts for Hawaii, but it's Alice who answers the clarion call of adventure when she hears tell of cheap tickets to Bangkok, that Thai jewel of underage sex tours and illicit after-hours mayhem. Skirting the parental issue via the time-honored method of lying, the girls convince Darlene's conservative parents that Hawaii is indeed their destination (Alice's single dad, played by a weary-looking John Doe, doesn't seem to give a hoot either way) and head off instead to Bangkok. Once there, it's a whirlwind tour of the temples and a $6-a-night hotel before Alice decides they should both live a little by sneaking into the Thai equivalent of the Ritz Carlton and scamming free drinks off the cabana boys. It's here they meet the squirrely Brit Nick Parks (Lapaine), who in no short order sets them up as mules in a Hong Kong heroin scam, landing the girls in a predictably gritty Thai women's prison. Enter Pullman, who despite his own ferret-esque tendencies, is too gregariously lovable to pull off the role he's playing, that of Yankee Hank, an ambulance-chasing expat lawyer who promises to get the girls off if only Darlene's father can come through with the cash. There's one terrific scene in the film, in which Hank, chatting on the phone with Darlene's frantic dad, doodles on a notepad, casually scratching out his projected fee over and over again, from $25,000, to $20,000, and on down, as he quietly ascertains the family's financial status. The rest of Brokedown Palace is a muddled cobbling together of random scenes from Midnight Express and last year's Joseph Ruben misfire Return to Paradise. Danes looks great even when she's covered in prison crud, which may be half the problem here, but even fans of Baz Luhrmann's Juliet should steer well clear of this melodramatic yawner.