Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Stranger in Paradise: Under-Employing Gary Daniels

Bangkok is quite a cosmopolitan city. It is also mired in corruption. An American money manager will team up with his expat brother, a British bodyguard, and a Colombian troubleshooter with a social conscience, hoping to untangle their issues with the Thai mafia. At least he will have the chance to enjoy some of the nightlife in Corrado Boccia’s A Stranger in Paradise (trailer here), which opens in select theaters this Friday.

Josh is basically an idiotic, but his winning smile and hearty handshake earned him an early partnership in his hedge fund. Unfortunately, his boss is deeply mobbed up with the Thai syndicate. Ostensibly to celebrate his promotion, Josh is trundled off to Thailand to visit his brother Paul, a night club proprietor, who happens to be an old college pal of his corrupt mentor.

As soon as he lands, Josh meets Jules, one Paul’s ambiguous retainers. She is hardly impressed by the younger brother, for good reason. Shortly thereafter, word comes the Feds have pinched Josh’s senior partner. Before long, the Thai mob and their bought-and-paid-for lackeys in the police force start popping round, asking not so nicely for their account numbers. Of course, Josh does not know Jack Straw.

Easily, Stranger’s greatest asset is the action cred of former UK kick-boxing champ turned actor Gary Daniels as Paul bodyguard Derek. Yet, the film only capitalizes on his skills in two frustratingly short scenes that are practically over before they start. Probably best known to fanboys for Fist of the North Star and most recognizable to general audiences as Eric Roberts’ British henchman in the original Expendables, Daniels has real presence, in marked contrast to the boring fratboy Colin Egglesfield. As the Yankee action lead and clich├ęd fish-out-of-water in an exotic locale, he will make viewers nostalgic for Kellan Lutz’s meathead turn in Java Heat.

Arguably, Stranger assembles a pretty good supporting cast, by B-movie standards. Catalina Sandino Moreno (from Maria Full of Grace and Fast Food Nation) shows some presentable action cops of her own as Jules. Stuart Townsend (Lestat in the franchise killing Queen of the Damned) also has his moments as Paul. The villains are not a memorable lot, but Byron Mann still chews on a fair bit of scenery as the villainous mob enforcer, Lek.

Unfortunately, Egglesfield’s Josh fatally undermines any good will his colleagues might create with his constant whining: “Why are you driving so fast?” “Why are people following us?” “Why am I such a tool?”  Whenever he is talking, it is bad for the film.

Stranger needed far less talking and way more action. It also would have been nice if there had been a sympathetic Thai character of some narrative significance. Still, despite all the murder and graft, the film makes Bangkok look like a fun place to visit, so at least that’s something. Disappointing (especially for Daniels fans), A Stranger in Paradise will leave little impression when it releases on VOD and in select theaters this Friday (2/14).