Diablo Cody has a new movie. Though you might be forgiven if you hadn’t a clue — even after viewing the generically, pointlessly entitled Paradise — that it was her work: it lacks all of the bite of her scripts for Juno, Jennifer’s Body, or Young Adult. (This is also Cody’s directorial debut, and is similarly undistinguished in that regard.) Sheltered, homeschooled conservative Christian Lamb (Julianne Hough: Safe Haven) suffered a severe injury a year ago: serious burns over much of her body, so bad that she mordantly notes that she was “barbecued in jet fuel,” though this misfortune miraculously spared her pretty face and her long blonde hair. Now, no longer believing in God and determined to indulge in the sensual delights she has been denied her whole life, she blows off her family and her church and heads to Vegas to spend her settlement money in the most decadent ways possible. There, she meets bartender Russell Brand (Despicable Me 2) and his best friend, lounge singer Octavia Spencer (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters). The particular quiet hell of Paradise is that these three characters are really pretty likeable, it’s just that the way that Cody forces them together — and forces an unearned intimacy among them over the course of just a few short hours — doesn’t work. Worse, Lamb’s story plays out as if it were written by someone who had actually been raised as she was, kept deliberately naive and protected, rather than by someone with an outsider’s wider, more sophisticated perspective on such a situation. A nighttime adventure in Las Vegas that’s meant to be debauched shouldn’t feel this innocent and toothless.
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