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'A Stranger in Paradise' is an intriguing thriller (Review)

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A Stranger in Paradise

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“A Stranger in Paradise” will be playing at the Great Lakes Stadium 16 starting today and is also available on Amazon Instant Video.

Corrado Boccia’s thriller “A Stranger in Paradise” isn’t an entirely successful film but it does have enough gritty action set pieces and gorgeous cinematography to make it worth watching. The film follows Josh Pratt (Colin Egglesfield), a hedge fund manager who takes a company mandated vacation to Bangkok to visit his shady brother Paul (Stuart Townsend). In classic noir fashion, things start to go wrong as Josh finds out that the feds have placed his boss under arrest and frozen all of his firm’s accounts and a vicious gangster wants to know where Josh’s boss stashed $80 million of Thai mob money.

The film has an undeniably great set up but first time director Boccia doesn’t know how to capitalize on it. “Paradise” lacks any sustained tension and the convoluted nature of its plot – the film’s narrative is relayed to the audience in flashback as Josh tries to explain his connection to a series of murders in Bangkok and financial crimes in America to a disbelieving interrogator – makes it a bit harder to follow than it needs to be. And Tom Cruise doppelganger Egglesfield, for all of his chiseled good looks and manic intensity, doesn’t have the charisma to make his underwritten and unlikable character appealing.

While Boccia doesn’t have the firmest grip on characterization or tone, he does know how stage a quality action sequence. With Thai gangster Lek (Bryon Mann) brutalizes a debtor in the middle of fast food restaurant or when Paul breaks down a hood who takes one too many liberties in his club, you really feel the impact of every body blow. Likewise, all of the film’s car chases are tightly executed and frequently harrowing and are refreshingly free of copious CGI that makes most modern Hollywood action movies feel like overly long video game cut scenes.

Boccia and cinematographer Guy Livneh also deserve credit for making his film look more expensive that the film’s $3 million budget should allow. The film’s best scene is its opening credits where the viewer is given a rapidly moving tour of Bangkok’s vibrant seedier side, a place where illicit deals are made in broad daylight and sex workers numbly gyrate for vaguely disinterested watchers. The scene does for Bangkok what the opening of Wong Kar-wai’s “Chungking Express” did for Hong Kong; it makes a frenetic urban environment look equally threatening and alluring.

The film also has a surprisingly complex view of life in Thailand. Extreme poverty coexists next to extravagant wealth. The police are seen to tolerate and even help the mafia conduct their business but only to a point. The film’s principally White cast comes off more as uncouth tourists than noble saviors. And as opposed to most Western films, “A Stranger in Paradise” doesn’t treat Bangkok as colorful set dressing but rather as a character in its own right.

Ultimately, action fans will probably be disappointed in the film. Its violence is grounded and not playful indulgent and the politics are thoughtful and multifaceted not clearly eyed and affirming. But if you’re looking for a thriller with some bite and intelligence, “A Stranger in Paradise” will fit the bill. And hopefully Corrado Boccia take what he learned from making this film to make another off-beat thriller because the genre definitely needs some new, internationally minded voices.

Mario McKellop has written about film on Examiner for the last three years and can be reached directly at mmckellop@hotmail.com.

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