Brokedown Palace

You’ve probably seen this movie before, first when it was called “Midnight Express” and then when it was called “Return to Paradise.” Same basic plot – American(s) are in a Far East country and get busted for drug possession/smuggling, and the rest of the movie is spent trying to get them freed. In this case, the perpetrators are two young women (Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale), who tell their folks they’re going to Hawaii but instead head to Thailand for a week and a half. Well, as you can imagine, the idyllic paradise isn’t quite all that, and our protagonists spend some time in a nasty, icky women’s prison (called Brokedown Palace). Interestingly, an early scene in Thailand has the girls jumping on a bed, screaming because of a cockroach. But as soon as they’re arrested, that naive waif-like attitude is gone, and suddenly they’re tough as raw beef.

The key to this story is whether Danes and Beckinsale can draw you in, get some sympathy from you. Sadly, neither one does this. Both performances are rather one-note; there’s hardly any character development in a movie that cries out for it. In fact, many of the lines are delivered so badly that you almost have to keep yourself from laughing out loud – although surely this is no comedy! Bill Pullman plays a cagey lawyer (conveniently married to a Thai) who pleads their case. As a crusty, veteran, world-weary, seen-it-all barrister, Pullman does fine work, although you have to question his judgement in some scenes.

All in all, not as compelling as it should have been. Incidentally, the term “Brokedown Palace” comes from a Grateful Dead song of the same name; reportedly, the makers of the movie were Deadheads.

Brokedown Palace: **1/2

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