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Wednesday, August 18, 1999

Brokedown Palace

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Apparently, doing time in a Thai prison can do wonders for a friendship. That seems to be the only lesson lifelong pals Alice Marano (Claire Danes) and Darlene Davis (Kate Beckinsale) learn when their high school graduation trip to Thailand (cheaper and way more exciting than Hawaii!) turns nightmarish.

Coming on the heels of the more complex and rewarding Return to Paradise, Brokedown Palace looks even more like an A-list version of a women-behind-bars B-movie, albeit without any shower scenes.

Screenwriters David Arata and Adam Fields constructed a morality play about loyalty, but haven’t fleshed out their central characters. Unlike Midnight Express (the brutal blueprint for the drug-smuggler-in-a-foreign-prison movie), these girls actually had nothing to do with the heroin found in their luggage. They are undone by a smooth-talking Australian (Daniel Lapaine) who uses them as decoys for his drug operation. Since Alice and Darlene are so obviously innocent (and unworldly), there’s little to do in Brokedown Palace but watch their continual victimization.

Director Jonathan Kaplan has made a career of putting women in peril (The Accused, Unlawful Entry, Bad Girls), but here he seems less interested in them than the men who manipulate their fate: Thai-based American lawyer "Yankee Hank" Green (Bill Pullman), ambulance chaser and closet do-gooder; and the cocky U.S. Embassy attaché (Lou Diamond Phillips) who revels in playing politics.

The biggest problems arise from against-type casting. Alice is a career "troublemaker," but Claire Danes can’t make her more than a misunderstood good girl. Kate Beckinsale can play a marvelously complex bitch (The Last Days of Disco), but as the follower Darlene, she’s disappointingly milquetoast.

Brokedown Palace is what the girls hoped their vacation would be: dangerous exotica glimpsed from a safe distance.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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