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Sharing Needles

[whitespace] Another Day in Paradise
Shades to Black: James Woods and Melanie Griffith go on a not-so-paradisical spree.

Like acrobats in a pyramid, the cast of 'Another Day in Paradise' stands on the shoulders of James Woods

By Richard von Busack

YEP, THE TITLE is ironic. Another Day in Paradise follows a quartet of junkies on a medium-level crime spree sometime in the 1970s; the twist is that they're a sharing, caring bunch--a sort of quasi-nuclear family.

Mel (James Woods), seeing some sort of potential in a young, battered thief, Bobbie (Vincent Kartheiser, beautiful but blank), picks him up. The boy's girlfriend, Rosie (Natasha Wagner), rides along as supercargo. The quartet--completed by Mel's moll, Sid (Melanie Griffith)--hits the road to steal some drugs and buy some guns. A drug deal with an Aryan brotherhood gang called "Hitler's Henchmen" goes bad; the gang (led by Brent Briscoe of A Simple Plan) turns its guns on our heroes.

Another Day in Paradise is directed coolly and bloodily by art-photographer-turned-director Larry Clark (Kids). It doesn't aspire to the no-Christmas-for-junkies heartbreak; there isn't even a cold-turkey sequence. This loose, rambling exercise isn't at heart emotional; it's a pastiche of so many other movies that all you can do is sit back and anticipate new versions of old favorite scenes. (The vintage soul/r&b soundtrack is absolutely terrific, though; you could always watch the movie with your eyes closed, while you're waiting for the scene in which Griffith shoots up in her neck.)

The film is so consciously cool that the actors look ridiculous when they try to add some drama to the story. Especially embarrassing is Wagner's tremendously bad emoting in a drugged-out scene in which she refuses to let her lover leave for a job.

Wagner's penchant is for the weirdo independent film, which is a strong point in her favor as far as I'm concerned, but whether she'll graduate from bare-naveled baby-slag roles is anybody's guess. Judging by her work so far (particularly First Love, Last Rites), the best you can hope is that this clench-jawed young lady will be photographed well. At least Clark took care of that. His compositions are intelligent, but as with so many hot artists of the '80s, time and the replication of his ideas have really taken their toll on his ideas.

Of the four, Woods steals the scenes and kicks every other actor's butt around the block. Woods never lets you down. The other three leads just stand on his shoulders like acrobats. Watch Lou Diamond Phillips playing the lord of a gay bar as peculiar as anything seen in a David Lynch movie. Even with glitter on his eyebrows, Diamond can't stand up to a force-five Woods tirade.

You could call it over-the-top acting, but where, pray, is Woods' top? Woods foams at the mouth as he tries to keep his little surrogate family in line. In the end, they let him down, and he foams some more. The ambition of the man, to be the most rabid, foamy, silver-tongued devil of an actor in the world! It's more ambition than anyone else in Another Day in Paradise shows, before or behind the camera.

Another Day in Paradise (R; 101 min.), Larry Clark, written by Stephen Chin and Christopher B. Landon, based on the book by Eddie Little, photographed by Eric Alan Edwards and starring James Woods and Melanie Griffith.

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From the January 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro.

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