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Return to Paradise (1998)

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Two friends must choose whether to help a third friend who was arrested in Malaysia for drug possession.


Joseph Ruben


Pierre Jolivet (motion picture Force Majeure), Olivier Schatzky (motion picture Force Majeure) (as O. Schatzky) | 2 more credits »
2 nominations. See more awards »



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Two women are arrested for smuggling while vacationing in Thailand.

Director: Jonathan Kaplan
Stars: Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Pullman


Cast overview, first billed only:
Vince Vaughn ... John 'Sheriff' Volgecherev
Anne Heche ... Beth Eastern
Joaquin Phoenix ... Lewis McBride
David Conrad ... Tony Croft
Vera Farmiga ... Kerrie
Nick Sandow ... Ravitch
Jada Pinkett Smith ... M.J. Major
Ming Lee Ming Lee ... Mr. Chandran
Joel de la Fuente ... Mr. Doramin
Richard Chang ... Prosecutor
James McCauley James McCauley ... Famous Divorce Lawyer (as James Michael McCauley)
Brette Taylor ... Young Woman in Limo (as Brettanya Friese)
Deanna Yusoff Deanna Yusoff ... Woman in Bar
David Zayas ... Construction Foreman
Amy Wong Amy Wong ... Ticket Agent (as Amy Wong)


Three friends share an exciting vacation in Malaysia, full of fun, drinks, women and hash. When the vacation is over, each have dreams of continuing their lives, and they all go their separate ways. One of them (Phoenix) remains on the tropical paradise to fulfill a dream of working with apes for research. Two years later, a lawyer (Heche) comes to New York and hunts down the other two friends to give some sad news. A few days after they left the island, police raided their camp and found amazingly large quantities of hash left about. Phoenix was still residing there, so he had to take the blame. He is set to be put to death in 8 days, and the only way the charges can be decreased is if the two friends come back to paradise and take their share of the responsibilty. If they do, they both will spend three years in prison. If only one does, he will spend six years behind bars... Written by R.P. Falvey

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Give up three years of their lives or give up the life of their friend. They have eight days to decide.

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language, drug content, some sexuality and a scene of violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

14 August 1998 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A Long Way to Paradise See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$2,465,129, 16 August 1998, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$8,288,513, 27 September 1998
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Per a February 1998 New York Post article ("Ellen Gal Pal Goes Straight for Co-star"), Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche shared passionate lovemaking sessions inside each others' trailers during breaks in filming. Movie sources said the chemistry between Vaughn and Heche was evident during shooting in exotic locales like Thailand and Macao. See more »


Long opening series of street scenes, local "color", was obviously filmed in Buddhist Thailand, complete with saffron-robed monks and red-green-gold Thai temples - Malaysia (population has 30 % non-Muslim minorities) doesn't have go-go bars or obvious brothels unlike Thailand). See more »


Sherrif: I know her. Like know her.
See more »

Crazy Credits

In memory of DANNY ARNOLD See more »


Referenced in Saturday Night Live: Reese Witherspoon/Alicia Keys (2001) See more »


Sonata In F Minor
Written by Domenico Scarletti
See more »

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User Reviews

You'd take 3 years from me but you wouldn't take my word?
15 August 2009 | by SpikeopathSee all my reviews

Sheriff and Tony are taking a hedonistic holiday in Penang, Malaysia. Hooking up with friend of the Earth, Lewis McBride they have a wonderful time and bonds are well and truly formed. Come the time for Sheriff and Tony to return to America, they leave Lewis their respective blocks of Hasish as gifts. The name Lewis McBride is forgotten by both men until two years later a lawyer turns up in New York to tell them both some startling news. After the boys left Penang, the police searched their beach house and found the Hashish, the volume of which got him arrested for drug trafficking. A crime punishable by death by Malaysian law. In 8 days time, Lewis, who has been locked up in dreadful Penang prison for two years, will be hung unless both the guys go back to Penang and accept their responsibility for the Hashish. An acceptance that will get each of them 3 years prison themselves.

Return To Paradise is a remake of a little known and seen French film from Pierre Jolivet called Force majeure. Throwing up a deep moral quandary and no small amount of surprises, it may just be one of the most undervalued films from the 90s. Starring Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jolivet's story gnaws away at the audience as it forces the issue at hand. Namely what would you do in the same situation? To save a friends life are you prepared to spend three years in a notoriously dank and desperate hell hole? Tho the piece is emotionally loaded in favour of doing what most would deem the right thing, the makers sucker us in, only to then steer us in other directions with a triple hander of a finale. There is also the impact of the press here, something that is crucial to the plot, and it's something that thankfully isn't glossed over. This really is a tightly constructed picture.

Vaughn {Sheriff} shows some great dramatic chops, it's refreshing to see him away from frat pack comedy shenanigans. Heche {Beth} looks gorgeous and gives her character real depth, while Phoenix as the imprisoned Lewis is heartbreakingly real. Not faring so well is Pinkett Smith as pesky reporter M.J. Major. Tho only a small part, it's really hard to accept her as a tough reporter who can get things done. Worthy of a mention is the cinematography by Reynaldo Villalobos, the shift in tones he uses between Malaysia to America is very smart and forces the issue of two completely different cultures. This is after all not just about a dilemma, it's also about differing laws on different continents. I found this film to be an emotional roller-coaster that stayed with me for some time after. It's hoped that more people will seek it out and get as much emotion and cranial ponderings from it that I most assuredly did. 8/10

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