Copyright  ©   1999 by Michael Segers All rights reserved 




Brokedown Palace & Hitch's 100th



   Some films are such weak, broken things, no matter how good everyone’s intentions, that you wonder how anyone decided to spend so many millions on so obvious a critical and popular flop. Such a film is Brokedown Palace, directed by Jonathan Kaplan with screenplay by David Arata, not a film to hate so much as to pity. In the tradition of Midnight Express (1978) and last year’s very similar Return to Paradise, the film adds nothing to the stories of cute but dumb Americans caught in various drug deals and crooked politics in exotic countries. At least, if it can serve as a warning to young folks (or older ones, either) to be careful overseas, it accomplishes something.

   Alice Marano (Claire Danes) is a spoiled brat, rejoicing in her obnoxiousness, who has never met a situation she couldn’t lie, cuss, or pout her way out of. With her lifelong best friend, Darlene Davis (Kate Beckinsale), she goes on a graduation trip seeking adventure, which they find plenty of. And so, these two girls from Ohio find themselves in Thailand, first in a roach motel, then in a luxury hotel where they are almost caught charging drinks to a room number they do not have. Finally they hit rock bottom in the Brokedown Palace, a Thai prison, facing a conviction for smuggling drugs and a thirty-year sentence. Don’t try this at home… or abroad.

   The basic problem with this film is that someone, somehow, forgot the most basic fact about movies: they are a visual medium. Yet, the scriptwriter and director chose an unfortunate shortcut by threading the first third or so of the film onto a taped plea that Alice sends to a sleazy lawyer (Bill Pullman). We are told things that we should have been shown. We have no real connection with the characters, but we do face an agonizing effort to downplay the horror of the prison (we never get any sense of how long they are there). What should be a traumatic horror comes across as nothing more than a bad-hair sleepover, complete with a cat fight about a boyfriend and a bad-tempered practical joker. In fact, Alice remarks that she has had worse haircuts than the one the prison guards gave her.

   Brokedown Palace suggests, although it fails to convince this viewer, there is a much bigger, almost archetypal evil lurking back of and much worse than petty drug smuggling. But, if this is supposed to be a theme, it goes no further than the poor inhabitants of the title prison. It may be a film about redemption. We are told that the lawyer who sees hapless Americans caught in his adopted country’s jails as the ticket to a new car suddenly, certainly with no motivation, changes when he meets these two undesirables. Yet, again, we aren’t shown anything. So, with the final hopeful line of the film, coming out of the greatest redemptive sacrifice since a Wagner opera, I am left wondering whether to feel my heart warmed or my stomach turning.

   Bless Claire Danes’s heart, she gives it her best, and she is growing into such an accomplished performer that her best, even with second rate material like this, is very good. The film is rated PG-13. There is one brief episode of prison violence, no nudity, some talk about sex, and a few strong words—which sound downright virginal in the context of this summer’s offerings. At about a hundred minutes, it might take the place of a made-for-tv movie, if you just have to get out of the house.

     How many candles are on your cake tonight, 76 to celebrate Fidel Castro’s birthday, or 100 to celebrate Alfred Hitchcock’s? Of course, for anyone who writes about movies should turn out something about such a grand opening, even a hundred years later. As I have surfed the ‘Net this week, however, I’ve seen so much Hitchcock material that I am squeezing the sides of my keyboard and yielding not to temptation. There is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said very well (right down to a perhaps copyright busting transcript of Psycho) somewhere or other on the Internet. 

   And, as always, keep your feet dry, your heart full of noble thoughts, and your eyes on your luggage if you pick up some unpleasant (or maybe, suspiciously too pleasant) companions in exotic locales.



























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