Robin Williams may indeed be what Newsweek recently called him: "the funniest man in America." You wouldn't get much of an argument from this quarter about that, but you'd barely guess it from "Club Paradise" (citywide), a frenetically unfunny and charmless movie.
To Williams' true sweetness as a disability-pensioned Chicago ex-fireman who takes over a delapidated Caribbean island resort, "Club Paradise" adds the components of the worst vacation imaginable: strident, intrusive companions; mind-numbing boredom, and a feeling of time utterly wasted. All that's lacking is chiggers.
Part of the waste is the talent fizzling to nothing in this barren enterprise; not only the inventive foolishness of Williams, but Peter O'Toole (in a shocking performance for him, just this side of inert), and Jimmy Cliff as the resort's other owner, a character underdeveloped to the point of starvation.
In a display of dreadful synchronicity, this is the third film this year on the theme of a paradise lost by overbearing colonials and regained by deserving islanders. The tepid "Water" at least had Michael Caine (in the Peter O'Toole role) and "Last Resort" had Charles Grodin as a zealous paterfamilias. All of them featured restless natives, all of them ended with a comic-opera revolution.
But "Last Resort," shot on Catalina Island for probably the amount "Club Paradise" budgeted for dental floss, had what the "big" film needs desperately--empathy for its characters. With the exception of Williams, Twiggy (sweetly ignoring the sappiness of her role as Williams' obligatory love interest) and Jimmy Cliff, you'd be hard-pressed to care about anyone on St. Nicholas Island.
And although it certainly had other problems, "Last Resort" was also brisk in its funniness--we only needed one shot of the tourists' plane, absolutely and swiftly vertical, to tell us everything. In the hands of Harold Ramis, the director and co-writer of "Club Paradise," the same situation becomes a gigantic set-piece with the actors mugging excruciatingly and the laughs expiring on every side. (Brian Doyle-Murray was his co-scenarist, from a story by no less than four writers, Ed Roboto and Tom Leopold; Chris Miller and David Standish).
What verbal humor there is, sparring between Williams and the island's Governor-General (O'Toole), has been clustered at the movie's opening, raising our hopes unfairly. Once the skit-like action begins, the wit vanishes. Not even the reggae music is lure enough, or even the joke of Cliff and The Flamboyants dutifully struggling with their distate as they play "Island in the Sun" for the Yankee dollar.
And how the film makers' enjoy looking down on their characters. Nerdy "swingers" (Eugene Levy and Rick Moranis); man-hungry secretaries (Robin Duke and Mary Gross); a couple whose marriage is wobbly (Andrea Martin and Steven Kampmann)--SCTV/Saturday Night Live veterans all treated with equal mean-spiritedness. You can only pity Joanna Cassidy, dragged in as love interest for the flaccid Governor-General or Adolph Caesar, whose last role this was destined to be. (You might think they'd have gotten rid of the Williams/Caesar exchange too, far too prophetic for comfort.)
"The vacation you'll never forget--no matter how hard you try" reads the movie's ad line. Probably true too. Lucky you. What you haven't seen, you don't need to forget. 'CLUB PARADISE'
A Warner Brothers release. Producer Michael Shamberg. Executive producer Alan Greisman. Director Harold Ramis. Screenplay, Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray from a story by Ed Roboto & Tom Leopold and Chris Miller & David Standish.Camera Peter Hannan. Editor Marion Rothman. Music composed by David Mansfield, Van Dyke Parks. With Robin Williams, Peter O'Toole, Rick Moranis, Jimmy Cliff, Twiggy, Adolph Caesar, Eugene Levy, Joanna Cassidy, Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty, Steven Kampmann, Robin Duke, Mary Gross, Simon Jones.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
MPAA-rated: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children under 13).