'Paradise' Review: Patronizing Church Satire Doesn't Have a Prayer

'Paradise' Review: Patronizing Church Satire Doesn't Have a Prayer

Diablo Cody’s directorial debut may double as the year’s worst movie.

Cody’s screenplay for the 2007 smash Juno showcased her ability to wring fresh insights from shopworn themes. She has yet to live up to that early potential, but even her horror misfire Jennifer’s Body looks downright Oscar worthy compared to Paradise.

The film is available now via Video on Demand and will be released theatrically Oct. 18. The unconventional marketing strategy, often reserved for lower profile fare, is the first sign Cody’s project is troubled. No matter. The film’s mean-spirited tone and soporific story will doom it no matter how audiences discover it.

A beautiful church goer named Lamb (Julianne Hough) renounces her faith after suffering serious burns across most of her body. “No benevolent being would do that to one of his children,” she reasons. The jet fuel accident that nearly killed her is the source of several black humor attempts that fail one after the other.

She publicly condemns her own church, bemoaning how “anti-science” its members are, and sets off for Las Vegas. She’s eager to wallow in the kind of behavior she’s been told to avoid all her life.

Once in Sin City she meets a chatty barkeep (Russell Brand) and a mediocre lounge singer (Octavia Spencer, who deserves a second Oscar just for holding her head up high here). Together, they try to nudge Lamb toward a new, fully realized life.

Cody the screenwriter offers no insight or affection for the main character. Lamb exists to mock things the screenwriter apparently despises, and Hough is certainly not a good enough actress to bring something more to such an ill-conceived part. Lamb is alternately sweet and sour, smart and borderline mentally challenged.

She packs her own dishes in a suitcase because she fears catching a disease from the ones she’ll find in Vegas. Naturally, they break in transit. Har har.

Her Muslim cabbie is all right with gay people, but Lamb says her father told her to “run and hide” should she ever meet a Muslim.

She’s not a real person but a scratch pad for Cody the screenwriter to spitball gags that would have never made the first Juno draft. In the world according to Lamb, sweet cakes are sinful, but so are zip-lining and texting. Even having sensual feelings is a no-no.

Brand is left to recycle his bad boy with a heart of silver shtick, but he, too, is simply given nothing else to mine.

The credits mercifully roll at the 81 minute mark, wrapping up a story with so little narrative pop it’s a wonder how Cody knew it was time to call it a wrap.

Paradise is a misbegotten attempt to mock people of faith, but the joke is squarely on the hipster behind the camera.