Larry Clark isn't exactly your average mainstream film-maker. So fans and detractors alike will be surprised that the man behind hyper-controversial kids has followed up his '95 teen exploration/ exploitation drama with a generic crime flick. However, while his film may win few prizes for its Crime Don't Pay plotting, Clark has made more of the story than a lesser director might, and drawn a rack of memorable performances from his cast.
Yet not all has changed. Shock factor is still high on Clark's list, and the opening minutes set the tone with efficient ease. A trademark sex scene ditches Hollywood soft focus and elegant settings for sharp images of teenage fumblings in a dirty squat. A bout of unpleasant violence towards our hero Bobbie is followed by a flashback to his father throwing him against the wall as a child. Then there's the introduction of career crim Mel, who takes care of Bobbie by kindly shooting him full of top-grade smack.
Yet, despite this overly downbeat opening, Paradise is astonishingly uplifting. Clark never resorts to an "Oh the poor thing..." approach to Bobbie's life, and his non-judgemental, matter-of-fact style lends a lot of humour to the proceedings. But while any accusations of OTT-ness could be easily justified, the leads' twisted grip on reality manages to be both compelling and hilarious.
There are few actors who can match James Woods when he's on snarling form, but Melanie Griffith is surprisingly effective as the motherly Sid. Gregson Wagner (last seen in the horrifically bad Urban Legend) is convincing as Bobbie's waifish girl-friend, and her complex relationships with both him and Sid provide the story with its emotional core. But it's one-time Indian In The Cupboard star Kartheiser who really impresses.