August 27, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Brokedown Palace

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG-13
performer
Kate Beckinsale, Claire Danes, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bill Pullman
director
Jonathan Kaplan
genre
Mystery and Thriller, Drama
We gave it a B-

Celluloid Americans have rotted in Asian prisons on drug charges before, most recently and affectingly in ”Return to Paradise.” But in Brokedown Palace, the accused are lissome young women, Darlene (Kate Beckinsale) and Alice (Claire Danes), whose lives of entitlement as tank-top-wearing tourists in Thailand are seriously curtailed when they’re arrested for possession of heroin that has been planted on them, probably by a cute Australian Romeo (Daniel Lapaine).

Jonathan Kaplan (”The Accused”), a veteran director of hard-charging dramas, spends the requisite amount of time establishing the awful, sweat-shined, vaguely sexualized conditions of a seedy Thai women’s prison and fanning outrage at the horrors of a corrupt legal system.

What’s new and worth watching, however, is the well delineated, very female, evolving connection between Alice (the scrappier one due for moral salvation, nicely handled by Danes) and Darlene (the more compliant one, succumbing to despair), played out against their relationship to their low-rent expatriate American lawyer (Bill Pullman). Capturing the girls’ mutable friendship is the valuable part; the exotic sensationalism is expendable.

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