Even though the essential nature of film-making is that actors will team up with a variety of different co-stars, it can still be surprising sometimes to see certain actors working together. That Dana Carvey would be in a film with fellow Saturday Night Live alum Jon Lovitz is no surprise. That the two would be the supporting actors in a trio isn’t much of a surprise either. That the lead role in that trio would be Nicolas Cage, on the other hand, is just a tad more unexpected. But that is what George Gallo’s 1994 film Trapped in Paradise gives us.
Cage, Carvey, and Lovitz play the Firpo brothers — Bill, Alvin, and Dave, respectively — who live in New York with their mother. Well, eldest son Bill does anyway. Cage is, as might be expected, playing the straight man in this trio, with Bill being a broke restaurant manager who struggles with being responsible and not giving into temptation to take advantage of people. His brothers aren’t living with him and mother Edna (Florence Stanley, in an amusingly overbearing role) because they gave into that temptation and are in prison. Until, of course, they get early parole and Bill has to take them in.
Carvey and Lovitz are playing more comic characters than Cage is, and their basic personalities are established during their parole hearing. Dave is a pathological liar, and Lovitz essentially plays a slightly less obvious version of his recurring liar character from SNL. Alvin, meanwhile, is mostly good-hearted but is a kleptomaniac. He may also be mentally challenged to some degree; whether this is the intention of writer-director Gallo or simply the result of Carvey’s mugging for the camera is unclear. Carvey overacts his part in this film, particularly in the beginning, and his character would probably be funnier if he were played a little straighter. Even Cage, despite playing the straight man, gets some funny bits as his exasperation leads him to start acting more manic; this is one of the few films to have a bit of both sane Cage and crazy Cage, though the latter is still a bit understated.
Most of the humor in the film is situational though. Through a series of manipulations, Dave talks Bill into taking them to the small town of Paradise, Pennsylvania, allegedly to convince the daughter of a prison cellmate to come visit her father. When they get there, they find that she works at the bank — and further find that the bank’s security is practically non-existent. The temptation is finally too great for Bill, and the three brothers hatch a scheme to rob the bank… at which point everything naturally goes awry. It’s just before Christmas, and in addition to the pangs of conscience this gives Bill, all routes out of town become snowed in. The trio are trapped in Paradise, and their consciences become even more troubled as they discover what generous, kind people live in the town. Nobody knows they’re the bank robbers, and so everyone just assumes they’re poor stranded tourists there for the winter festival. After robbing the bank of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bill, Alvin, and Dave find that they keep acquiring more stuff as people keep giving them money, clothes, and other gifts. In addition to this, they have to dodge the suspicions of local law enforcement, the FBI, and other pursuers, while Bill starts falling for the mobster’s daughter (Mädchen Amick).
And you thought your Christmas season was hectic.
The romance subplot is fairly undeveloped, but Cage and Amick have enough chemistry to keep it moderately believable. And it’s a relatively small part of the movie anyway; the main point, after all, is to laugh at the situations the three brothers find themselves in. While it’s not quite as madcap as the premise would allow for, most of the scenes are fairly funny. A few stand out as creative twists such as the way the hostage situation at the bank develops, or the inevitable car chase — which in this instance is short one getaway car. Trapped in Paradise may not be a Christmas classic or a comedy classic, but for a change of pace during December, it’s a reasonably good choice.