Come See the Paradise

The British director Alan Parker seems to have made a new career out of taking cataclysmic events in American racial politics and pumping them up into high-gloss melodrama. In Mississippi Burning, he spun a demagogic revenge fantasy out of the civil rights upheavals of 1964 (as if the real story wouldn’t have been gripping enough). Now, in Come See the Paradise, a lavishly dull epic, he tackles one of the central travesties of 20th-century American history: the internment camps in which the U.S. government imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II. Dennis Quaid plays an idealistic Irish union organizer who marries a young Japanese-American beauty (Tamlyn Tomita) he meets in Los Angeles. Come See the Paradise starts out as typical cross-cultural Hollywood romance, with Quaid defying Tomita’s sternly parochial father in order to win her hand. In the courtship scenes, the two stars have some chemistry — even if Quaid never quite seems the feisty prole he’s supposed to be playing. But when the war breaks out and Tomita and her family are incarcerated behind barbed wire in the middle of the beautiful California desert, the movie stops dead in its tracks, never to revive. Though America’s internment of Japanese Americans was a hideous injustice, within the camps the prisoners weren’t abused. And in a strange way, it’s the lack of hard-core atrocity that defeats the sensationalistic Parker: He has made a rabble-rousing prison picture in which nothing really happens. The camp becomes his excuse to photograph dust clouds through the desert sun. D+

Come See the Paradise
  • Movie
  • 135 minutes