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Return to Paradise

Promotional movie poster for the film
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Produced by David Arnold
Ezra Swerdlow
Written by Wesley Strick
Bruce Robinson
Starring Anne Heche
Joaquin Phoenix
Vince Vaughn
Music by Mark Mancina
Cinematography Reynaldo Villalobos
Editing by Craig McKay
Andrew Mondshein
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) United States August 10, 1998 (premiere)
August 14 (wide)
Spain November 6
Argentina February 11, 1999
Sweden March 26
United Kingdom April 16
Israel July 22
Kuwait March 20, 2000
Running time 111 min.
Country U.S.A.
Language English

Return to Paradise is a 1998 film directed by Joseph Ruben, written by Wesley Strick and Bruce Robinson and starring Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix and Vince Vaughn.

Similarities to other films

Return to Paradise is a remake of a French film released in 1989, Force majeure. Return to Paradise was released a year before Brokedown Palace and is noted for being similar, in that it also concerns a young American trapped in a Southeast Asian legal system, and difficult choices that must be made by that foreigner's traveling companions.


"Return to Paradise" begins with a silent montage of a fun holiday in a Malaysian paradise showing the three main male characters in the movie having a spectacular time. The opening scenes of the movie remain in Malaysia with a series of pulsating events providing the men with myriad hardships, including one such scene when the young men are almost run over by a car when riding a bicycle and another when they are pressured into buying some tonic drink from Malaysian locals. Eventually, the three men, Lewis McBride (Joaquin Phoenix), Sheriff (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) wind up at their beach front house on the ocean pondering their future in the island paradise. After some time, Tony and Sheriff decide to return to New York, while Lewis, being a "greeny", wishes to travel to Borneo to save endangered orangutans. As an ironic joke before leaving, Sheriff asks Lewis, "Why did we get so much hash anyway,?" which eventually proves to be Lewis' death sentence. The movie then returns to New York, with Sheriff working as a limo driver and Tony as an architect. Eventually, a woman, claiming to be a lawyer, shows up on each of their proverbial door-steps dealing them with a harsh proposition. She informs them that their friend Lewis has served the last 2 years in the Penang prison in Malaysia, because of a great deal of hash found at his (and the other 2 men's former houses). Frighteningly, the lady (Beth, played by Anne Heche), reveals that he will receive the death sentence unless one or both of the men return to share responsibility. Beth assures both of the men that they will not suffer in the prison, be tortured or harmed in any way. After a grueling eight days to make a decision, and a heated love affair between Beth and Sheriff, both men decide to return to Malaysia. Upon their arrival, all seems well until they visit the prison to see Lewis.

Lewis seems to have turned crazy from the constant imprisonment, although it is reported that he has not been tortured or starved as is the case with other prisoners. Upon their drive back to the US embassy, Beth reveals that she is Lewis' sister. Her lie makes Tony fearful of the Malaysian justice system and he abandons Lewis and flies back to the US. Sheriff follows Tony, but decides to face jail to save his friend and returns to the courtroom in which Lewis is being tried. The judge seems heartened by this act of courage and bravery, until he discovers a news clipping from an American Newspaper blaming the Malaysian justice system and condemning them for their harsh sentencing of Lewis. Because of this, he becomes infuriated and gives Lewis death, despite the presence of Sheriff coming back to accept his share of the responsibility. He also gives Sheriff an unknown period of jail-time. The movie then cuts to the prison where Lewis is shown screaming and crying, whilst being brought to his imminent execution. While being carried across the courtyard to the gallows, Sheriff comes to his window and calls out to Lewis in an attempt to calm him down. When the noose is being tied around Lewis' neck, Sheriff keeps calling out that "he is there" and "I'm with you", as well as "look at me". Lewis stops crying and looks up at Sheriff, upon which he is dropped from the platform and killed. After this, Beth and Sheriff have a meeting, where he assures Beth that Lewis left with pride and dignity to save his reputation. Upon this Beth becomes emotional and kisses Sheriff as a sign of their love and leaves saying "I'll wait for you until you're released", upon when Sheriff replies, "I know you will!"

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