Return to Paradise (1998 film)

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Return to Paradise
Return to paradise.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Produced by
  • David Arnold
  • Ezra Swerdlow
Screenplay by
Based on Force Majeure 
by Pierre Jolivet
Olivier Schatzky
Music by Mark Mancina
Cinematography Reynaldo Villalobos
Edited by
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • August 10, 1998 (1998-08-10) (premiere)
  • August 14, 1998 (1998-08-14) (United States)
Running time 111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $14 million
Box office $8,341,087

Return to Paradise is a 1998 film directed by Joseph Ruben, written by Wesley Strick and Bruce Robinson and starring Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Joaquin Phoenix. 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, which has a similar storyline of drugs in South East Asia.


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 great time. The opening scenes of the movie remain in Malaysia with a series of pulsating events providing the men with a myriad of adventures, including a scene when the young men are almost run over by a car while riding a bicycle and another when they are pressured into buying some rhinoceros horn 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.

Tony and Sheriff decide to return to New York, while Lewis, being a "greeny", wishes to travel to Borneo to save endangered orangutans. Back in New York, Sheriff is working as a limo driver and Tony as an architect.

A young lawyer named Beth (Anne Heche) informs them that their friend Lewis has served the last two years in Penang prison in Malaysia, because of the hash found at their Malaysian house. She 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 nor harmed in any way. After a grueling eight days, during which they must 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 appears to have suffered psychological damage from the harsh imprisonment, although it is reported that he has not been tortured or starved as is the case with other prisoners.

Beth subsequently 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 (Patrick Teoh) 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, the judge becomes infuriated and gives Lewis a death sentence, despite Sheriff's decision to accept his share of the responsibility. He also gives Sheriff an unknown period of jail time.

As Lewis is taken to his execution, Sheriff hears him screaming and struggling. From a window, he is able to call to him, to assure him repeatedly that he is not alone. Just before he is hanged, Lewis calms in response to these assurances and dies quietly.

Sheriff later assures Beth that Lewis, despite his emotional deterioration, seemed at the last moment to be at peace. Beth becomes emotional and kisses Sheriff as a sign of their love and connection. She tells him that the attorney general has said that Malaysian government will quietly release him within six months, once the media attention dies down, to save face.

As the guard takes Sheriff out, she tells him that she will take her brother back home and then come back and wait in Malaysia until he is released.



The film received decent reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 71% "fresh" rating based on 45 reviews.

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