Taking somewhat of a cue from John Schlesinger’s 1990 thriller Pacific Heights, where yuppie couple Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith were powerless against Michael Keaton’s tenant from hell, Michael Guigui’s Paradise Cove is that film’s distant, trashy cousin; you know you shouldn’t invite them to the family BBQ but, dammit, if they just aren’t a bit of fun to hang out with for a passing 100 minutes or so.
All very caucasian and privileged, Paradise Cove sets up its two supposedly likeable protagonists in Mena Suvari and a cardboard cut-out of Paul Rudd, aka Todd Grinnell, as Tracey and Knox, a husband and wife duo who intend on flipping the Malibu property they’ve inherited from his late mother for a serious chunk of change; he readily proposes the view alone is worth $6 million. The house has undergone a serious case of arson, and Knox believes he can efficiently fix it up in a matter of weeks, intending for he and Tracey to metaphorically sail off into the sunset and retire off the profits.
It’s all very well and good in theory, but underneath the house “lives” Bree (Kristen Bauer van Straten), a squatter supreme who has personal ties to both the house and the neighbourhood. As much as Knox tries to play the nice guy card, we agree more with Tracey’s concerned temperament, but it’s obvious that neither of their approaches are going to budge Bree in any direction other than further into their home. With Tracey’s prized pooch, the hot-headed African-American construction worker, and Krista Allen’s bubbly-yet-bitchy local all earning focus at some point, we wait with not-so-bated breath as to when Bree will unleash her unhinged villainess and bury each respective ingredient – literally!
Films like Paradise Cove essentially live and die off its antagonist, and much like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction or Rebecca DeMornay in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Bauer van Straten is the sole reason the lunacy remotely works. Her performance doesn’t hold a candle to those aforementioned performances, but her Bree is a tragic character who sees no wrong in her actions, and as ridiculous as Sherry Klein’s script is at times, it at least gives the actress plenty to chew on; in fact, she has more than enough to sate her appetite given the minuscule effort afforded to both Grinnell and, sadly, Suvari.
A frustrating film in terms of character motivation and action – it’s comedic just how much Bree seems to have everyone rally around her, despite the overwhelming evidence against her – but nonetheless entertaining in its ability to lean into the bombastic nature of such genre efforts, Paradise Cove may be more a destination you laugh at than with, but its unintentional value as farcical viewing is enough to request an overnight stay; just sleep with a hammer under your pillow, you never know when you’re going to be ambushed and waterboarded in the middle of the night!
Paradise Cove is available now on VOD in North America. An Australian release is yet to be determined.