Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Paradise Broken: the Mean Streets of Waikiki

This is not Steve McGarrett’s Hawaii. Behind the luxury hotels, sex and drugs are openly sold, with nary a cop in sight. Even though they are locals, a junkie-pimp and his prostitute-girlfriend have a hard time making it on Waikiki’s mean streets in James Sereno’s Paradise Broken (trailer here), which MarVista Entertainment releases today on VOD platforms, including Vudu.

Ray Geronimo and Misha Domingo vaguely dream of owning their own beachfront bungalow, but their day-to-day concerns solely focus on their next hit of smack. Towards that end, Geronimo reluctantly started pimping Domingo out. It was really her idea. She thinks they can do better if they join forces with the Mainlander known only as “Pimp” (seriously, that is all it says on his business cards), but Geronimo sees him as just another outside exploiter. He would rather poach the gangster’s greenest new street-walker. However, Geronimo’s expansionist plans incite Domingo’s jealousy, leading to a messy split at an inopportune time.

Whether together or apart, Geronimo and Domingo will do junkie things as junkies do, which isn’t very pretty to watch, but it is relentlessly honest. Similarly, Sereno is determined to reinforce the notion of two radically different Hawaii’s, immediately following up every glamour shot of the coast line or the night club with an up-close-and-personal look at the underclass squalor of Dante’s life.

As Geronimo, Dante Basco (a veteran of the Awesome Asian Bad Guys) is a tightly coiled spring, always ready to explode with rage. Nadine Nicole Heimann is also plenty erratic as Domingo, while Katherine Emily Mills is a disturbing picture of innocence as the girl he tries to recruit. However, the demonically charismatic Khalil Kain steals scene after scene as Geronimo’s more ruthless rival. Some might consider it a dubious honor, but Kain’s nameless antagonist might be the most distinctive movie pimp performance since Morgan Freeman’s Oscar nominated turn in Street Smart.

Although there is a bit of an over-reliance on flashback devices, Sereno’s execution is still pretty smooth and the ensemble performances are faultless. Still, there is no getting around the fact this is one downer narrative. Nevertheless, it is genuinely a film of and by Hawaii, featuring some breakout-worthy work from its principals. Recommended for those who appreciate gritty, street smart dramas, Paradise Broken launches today (8/11) on VOD, from MarVista Entertainment.