To judge from Another Day in Paradise, the last thing junkies and thieves want to be is alone. How else to explain the way Mel (James Woods) and Sid (Melanie Griffith) take Bobbie (Vincent Kartheiser) and Rosie (Natasha Gregson Wagner) under their protective wings?
Director Larry Clark (Kids) opens the film with a security guard catching the strung-out Bobbie robbing vending machines. Because of the visceral immediacy of handheld camerawork, this showdown between stocky guard and waiflike thief truly feels like life and death: a pitched, bloody battle fueled by anger and adrenaline. But as Bobbie recuperates with Rosie, Mel arrives to mend his wounds, and Another Day in Paradise becomes a different film altogether.
Mel sees himself as a professional thief and maintenance-level addict, never too hopped-up to pull off a profitable, well-planned job. Sid’s a perfect companion for his erratic 1970s high life, resourceful and tough, but always up for a giggly good time. They practically adopt the two underfed street urchins, initiating them into the next level of crime and drugs. For a while, Another Day in Paradise – Christopher Landon and Stephen Chin’s screenplay is based on Eddie Little’s novel – seems like the story of a twisted, but fully functioning, surrogate family.
But the harsh lessons that Bobbie and Rosie absorb eventually undermine this fragile union, particularly when they realize that no matter how removed Mel and Sid feel from other criminals, they still swim in the same sewers.
Gus Van Sant drew inspiration from Larry Clark’s photography – particularly the 1971 collection, Tulsa – when making Drugstore Cowboy, so it’s ironic that Clark’s own junkie-thief opus seems like warmed-over leftovers in comparison.
But what Another Day in Paradise does have are James Woods and Melanie Griffith at their absolute best: Woods finding an ideal outlet for his manic presence and Griffith unabashedly showing how age has etched her hardcore beauty.
Mel and Sid may not be good "parents," but they’re realists. They know how much gets left on the side of the road when you set out on a thrill ride.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.