Welcome to Paradise

Some films try too hard to be funny, some try too hard to be “action-packed” and some try too hard to deliver a message. Welcome to Paradise, a Dove Foundation Family recommended film, isn’t a comedy or an action flick, so guess what it’s trying too hard to do? Director Brent Huff does his best to present an inspiring “family-friendly” film but the script, co-written with star William Shockley (of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), plays out more like a poorly executed episode of Seventh Heaven than a feature film.

Starring Crystal Bernard from Wings as liberal preacher Debbie Laramie, Welcome to Paradise attempts to illustrate how loving people from all walks of life is what makes the world go round. When Debbie is transferred from her “big-city” church in Dallas to the small community of Paradise, where the small homeless community is shockingly clean, well-mannered, and downright eloquent, she and her son Hayden (Bobby Edner) are forced to start their lives over. As Debbie gets to know her church and Hayden fights dyslexia, locals begin to decide how they feel about this new “girl preacher” and her unconventional ways.

Complete with a “smoking is not cool” message thrown in halfway through for good measure, Welcome to Paradise pulls out all the stops on the way to appeasing values voters, even managing to squeeze in a dated Bill Clinton joke towards the end. Though the film is constantly aiming at viewer’s emotions, tossing in family issues, church discrimination and Biblical references, the story is much too didactic to effectively communicate. As the audience watches Debbie invite homeless people to her church and inspire churchgoers to erect a new building, even those buying into the message will feel let down by the ham-fisted delivery. 

The film’s $500,000 budget begins to show signs of exhaustion almost from the beginning. Most of the cast are painful to watch, though the preachy script doesn’t do them any favors. While Brian Dennehy manages to deliver a satisfyingly subtle performance as auto magnate Bobby Brown and relative newcomer Brad Stine gains some chops by the end of the film, the rest of the cast flounders.

Those looking for an uber-safe film with strong Christian values will be satisfied, though much better material is available. “I’m not too good with all the thees and thous,” Debbie says in an early sermon, “I just tell it like it is.” By the end of this 104 minute faith-based film attempt, viewers will be wishing the writers would do the same. Though it’s clear throughout that the filmmakers hearts are in the right place, hearts alone don’t make movies. Their attempt may be admirable, but it’s not admirable enough to be enjoyable.

Zach’s Rating: D+
Evangelical’s rating: B-
Militant atheist’s rating: F

To purchase Welcome to Paradise, visit Amazon

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