The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Paradise City (2022)

Back on episode 128 of the podcast Ty and I covered this in our continuing effort to watch all of Bruce Willis's 2020s and late 2010s DTV films, and I'm finally getting around reviewing it. I'm not really sure why that is, because as far as I know it's been on Hulu this whole time. Anyway, we're getting after it now.

Paradise City has a guy named Ryan Swan (Blake Jenner, no relation to the Jenner family) who is in Hawai'i to find out how his father (Bruce Willis) died. Signs point to John Travolta, who is sponsoring senate candidate Branscombe Richmond, but just has the vibe of a creepy bad guy. First Swan enlists the help of his father's old partner (Stephen Dorff), and then when he goes missing, he teams up with a local police detective (Praya Lundberg). After she dons a bikini to find Blake's father's phone in a lagoon, she then takes Blake to Paradise City, this community hidden from away from the White Man, which Travolta wants to get his grubby hands on so he can ruin it. Is Blake able to find what he's looking for at Paradise City?

This is about what you'd expect from one of these films, but the names help, especially Travolta, who gives us a bit of his Battlefield Earth baddie in his performance. There's also a lot of goofiness, like when Stephen Dorff is captured by Travolta's baddies, first he and Travolta have a funny back and forth, and then when his goons beat up Dorff, they're like straight-punching him from off screen. It's hilarious, and does what you need. Another was when Travolta threw a village elder from a helicopter into an active volcano. Still, Blake Jenner, as your young man doing the heavy lifting, doesn't quite bring it the way a Johnny Drama would've done, and I think our lead needed that kind of energy. I think they also tried to prop up the scenes between Jenner and Lundberg by having her in skimpy outfits like a bikini, as a way to hide the fact that they didn't have great chemistry, and the scenes themselves looked like they were one take and done. This is also the first time Travolta and Willis were in a film together since Pulp Fiction, so for people my age, that was a fun element of this that pushed it above your usual 2020s DTV Willis fare. Oh, and as an aside, this film has nothing to do with the Guns N' Roses hit.

We're now at 15 for Willis on the site, and with the number of films I've covered on the podcast with Ty, I think we have another 10 ready to review. He's not horrible here, but he's not in this much either, which is par for the course with these later Willis films--Paradise City was 4th from the last for him. Seeing him with Travolta was a reminder of how far we were from the days of Pulp Fiction, and how amazing they both were in it--"Zed's dead baby, Zed's dead." This October will be 30 years since Pulp Fiction came out, and Ty made the point that this film in 1997 would've been huge. Stephen Dorff would've had to have been the Blake Jenner part, and we also would've gotten more Willis. The one point I made though is that in a 1997 version, they may not have given the role of the senate candidate to Branscombe Richmond, which would've been too bad.

Travolta on the other hand is just moving into the DTV world. While this is his fourth tag on the site, it's only his second DTV film, after The Killing Season--the other two were Wild Card posts for The Punisher and Battlefield Earth. And speaking of Battlefield Earth, there was a bit of the old "Man Animal" in his performance as a baddie here, which really stole the show. In looking at his bio, he's had quite a few DTV flicks, or ones that did like in the tens of thousands in the theater, that we could cover here--not to the level of Willis, but he's had about ten years since The Killing Season, and it looks like he's made 14 DTV flicks in that time, which is still pretty prolific. Based on how much fun this performance this was here, I think it'll be worth checking some of these other ones out in the near future.

In addition to Willis and Travolta, we had a bunch of other names. Like Willis, this is Branscombe Richmond's 15th film on the site. We're used to seeing him in small parts in 90s DTV actioners, so to see him here was a lot of fun. Speaking of fun, Eva from Hot Seat was back in this one. If you listen to the episode Ty and I did on Hot Seat, 118, we extolled the virtues of Eva, played by Kate Katzman, who's in this as a madame--at least I think she was a madame--maybe strip club owner? I mentioned Stephen Dorff above, who we could've used more of, but he's great in any case. We also had a small cameo from DTV character actor mainstay, Noel Gugliemi, who played another gangster looking to make a deal with Travolta. Finally, you may have noticed Johnny Messner was tagged. That's because he was a producer on this, but he's not in the film at all as an actor.

Finally, as I mentioned in the podcast episode, at the end of the film when our heroes infiltrate Travolta's big dinner, Jenner's character goes disguised as Gavin DeGraw while acting as the chauffeur driving the women there. Every time I see this I hear I'm in looove with a giiirl... or IIIIII don't wannbe... What amazed me was how far we were from when Gavin DeGraw was making Mom Rock hits that were used for the theme songs to CW teen dramas, that the character could go into Travolta's compound dressed like DeGraw, and no one would say "hey, aren't you the guy that did that 'I Don't Wannabe' song?" "Sorry, I don't know what you're talking about." "No way, you're him! This is so cool!" "I mean it man, I'm really not him, I'm just a chauffeur." "What kind of chauffeur dresses like Gavin DeGraw? Fine man, you wanna be like that, whatever. I didn't like your music anyway." God, brings you back to the late 2000s though, doesn't it?

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can get this on Hulu, which I think isn't a bad bet. The names are what sell it, and Travolta in particular does a great job, which makes this worth a look. On the other hand as a warning, it was still made on the cheap, and all the names are supporting characters, so more of the film centers on Jenner and Lundberg. And if you haven't yet, you can check out episode 128 in the podcast archives for the conversation Ty and I had on this.

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