Fun and French kissing in the No-Fly Zone
On a modern kibbutz, volunteers from around the world come to help with the agricultural aspects of this cooperative community. We follow one of the latest groups to arrive. Four are from Britain, and two are from America. They include: a couple of boozing, brawling football fans; a matronly, miserable Miss; a ten year veteran of the British army; a casual pre-med student from Boston; and an uptight, totally Jewish NY nerd. They immediately discover that they have misunderstood the labor and sacrifices involved in living such a life. As time goes by, they learn to accept the austere arrangements, even growing to appreciate the experience. But one issue seems to constantly preoccupy their minds. No, it is not an imminent terrorist attack. It's sex. Apparently, all the unpaid helpers are horny as Mt. Horab and looking to knock Israeli army boots as much as possible. Even Gila, the tough-as-nails kibbutz liaison can't help but fall for the puppy dog pandering of Beantown's almost Dr. Mike. They begin a whirlwind romance that has them sneaking away for covert booty calls while the others work like Pharaoh's slaves. But when a talent show prank goes afoul, tempers flare. It takes a fire at the preschool and a hostage situation in an ancient ruin to truly bring the best out in everyone. And as they are ready to leave, they realize that they are not quite ready to leave this place that is truly Not Quite Paradise.
Not Quite Paradise presents the viewer with one of the most basic dilemmas in all of moviemaking. It offers a backdrop and set of situations far more intriguing and potentially entertaining than the tired, trite story being forwarded. Indeed, life on a big time Israeli kibbutz seems like the stuff cinematic dreams are made of. Most Westerners hear this Hebrew word for "group" and probably think of some commune-like hippie desert utopia where free love and drugs have been substituted by sacrifice and intense military preparedness. Indeed, most people would probably find the idea of volunteering in the epicenter of Middle East tensions and terrorism insane. So why not make a movie about this? Why not fashion a realistic storyline out of the troubles and turmoil, the threats and the treasures of living and working within such a traditional and yet now technically modern and tumultuous setting? Why supply stupid characters from various parts of the world acting like international extras from a ridiculous 80s teen sex romp and drop them into this controlled chaotic circumstance? Nothing good can come of it, and indeed, the dimwits wandering the sand dunes of the Sinai demean themselves, their home nations, and the issues that Arabs and Jews have been fighting over for thousands of years. Not Quite Paradise wants to be a mixture of politics and personalities, a look at how clueless members of the global community react when placed smack dab in the middle of the most ancient of all faction feuds. It hopes that by making the focus on young volunteers on a kibbutz, it can avoid proselytizing and instead sway opinions with humor and heart. But the combination just doesn't work. It's like mixing Summer Lovers with Exodus.
At its heart, Not Quite Paradise claims to be a timeless romance. It wants to take the fish out of water ways of the Boston based pre-med student (a rather blank Sam Robards) and crash them directly into sexual tension with the constant PMS misery of the chief kibbutznick Gila (Joanna Pacula). The only problem is we never care if these two bland mouth breathers ever get together. Robards is too weak, and Pacula is too intense. Indeed, she seems to be trying to out-mood-swing Sybil in this movie. One moment she is bossy. The next she is shy. Then she is angry. Then she's so hopped up she's practically humping the air. About the only time she's focused and grounded is when she discusses the narrow-minded fact that she will never leave the kibbutz. And with that ultimatum in place, the ending becomes unnecessary. She's never going away. Terrorism won't dissuade her. Cow-eyed monkey love won't dissuade her. So we are left in a narrative trap that we just can't get out of. Add to this that writer Paul Kember feels the only way this super serious setting can work is to overdose it with quirkiness and caricature and we have a motion picture mortar just waiting to explode. His idea of three-dimensional characterization is to provide Finnish twins who never smile, a prim and proper British bird hiding from her personal demons, an army officer trying to recover from years spent in Northern Ireland, and a hyper-sluttish Australian girl who seems to answer any question (Are you okay? What's the square root of 49?) with a dirty double entendre. And it's this cast of ancillary cretins, along with the brash brats front and center, that make Not Quite Paradise not quite successful. The setting sells the cinema. The people populating it just keep pulling it down.
You have to give Anchor Bay credit for even thinking about releasing this long forgotten movie from over 17 years ago. Visually, they provide a nice, if occasionally too soft 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image. Indeed, some of the outdoor scenes seem washed out. Sonically, we get a Dolby Digital Surround Stereo presentation that highlights the desert atmosphere while basically staying a dialogue heavy front channel experience. One does have to note the incredibly overblown musical score for the film (by Rondo Veneziano) that sounds like Lawrence of Arabia meets Dr. Zhivago by way of Gone with the Wind. How a goofy crass comedy got saddled with such a sore of a soundtrack is amazing, considering how inconsistently inappropriate it is (characters speaking about the mundane are backdropped by overly epic orchestration). As for bonus material, we get a trailer that does a fine job of selling the movie for what it really is: a daffy look at kibbutz life with a bunch of socially inept screw-ups who make the bad boys in Bless the Beasts and the Children look like social workers. Unfortunately, that's the extent of the extras. We don't get any material that could give us insight or interest in the kibbutz life, the way it has changed over the years, or the real threat to volunteers participating in the program. It's as if any possible sense of realism not already present in the film (including the completely gratuitous terrorism) is avoided to remove whatever sense of magic the moviemakers think they've achieved. But make no mistake about it: Not Quite Paradise is not quite entertaining. And it's not quite terrible. But it is far too hackneyed and strained to be quite recommendable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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