The Tao of Nicolas Cage: Trapped in Paradise

By  · Published on December 23rd, 2016

Cage gets into the Christmas spirit by robbing a small-town bank.

“Ring Dings and milk? Oh sure. Then we’ll get some balloons and go to the puppet show. What are you, two years old?”

What’s one thing we all wish for every holiday season? I’ll give you a second to think it over.

Does everyone have their answer? Have we come to some sort of a consensus?

So we’re all in agreement that wishing for the opportunity to spend this most joyous time of year with Nicolas Cage is the correct answer?* I think we can safely say that’s 100% accurate.

Luckily for us Cage has done a handful of Christmas-themed movies, the most famous of which is The Family Man. But I’m not here to talk about The Family Man. At least not yet, we can go ahead and save that one for a later date. Instead I’m going to take a look at 1994’s Trapped in Paradise, a film that is much more near and dear to my heart (and also not so much of a downer).

Trapped in Paradise is the story of three brothers – Bill (Cage), Dave (Jon Lovitz) and Alvin (Dana Carvey) – who decide to rob a bank in the small town of Paradise, Pennsylvania on Christmas Eve. Despite their obvious incompetence the maladroit trio successfully pull off the bank heist. As they try to exit the town with the money they crash their car on the icy roads because they don’t have any snow chains. A nice man from the town picks them up after the crash and after advising them all the highways are closed treats them to some nice small town hospitality. Our three brothers are now trapped in a town with the very people they stole from and they couldn’t be nicer. Hilarity ensues.

Trapped in Paradise had a rough go of it at the box office. The film opened on December 2nd, 1994 and per Box Office Mojo only managed to pull in $2.7 million which was good enough for a 7th place finish that weekend. As if a 7th place finish weren’t bad enough the film was the only new major release that week. The 6 films to beat Trapped in Paradise had all been in theaters for average of 5 ½ weeks at that point. The Lion King, in it’s 19th week, managed to bring in nearly $5,000 more.

Critically speaking the film did not do much better. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a lowly score of 10% from critics. In Roger Ebert’s ½ star review he said “it should be preserved by the Library of Congress, as an example of creative desperation.” And Ebert did not stop there going on to say the movie played more like a documentary with the cast “forced to perform in a screenplay that contains not one single laugh, or moment of wit, or flash of intelligence, or reason for being.”

Ouch, Ebert. Ouch.

None of this is new information to me. I was well aware that the film wasn’t well received – though I was surprised to see it did that poorly at the box office. But I had always assumed time was better to the film and that it developed a bit of a cult following over the years. After doing a bit of research and asking around I’m pretty sure that this film is only enjoyed by a handful of IMDb users and myself. And after watching Trapped in Paradise this week in preparation for this piece I stand by my opinion – I love this movie.

Now I’m not saying this is a perfect movie. It’s certainly flawed and nobody would call it a Christmas classic. But it is goofy, good-hearted fun with Cage and two of my favorite SNL alumni all in a wonderful Christmas setting. The bones for a great movie are there. Put this idea in the hands of the Coen Brothers and you could have a good Raising Arizona follow up. Instead what we have is three bumbling idiots robbing Stars Hollow but that’s good enough for me.

According to IMDb the cast absolutely hated making the film. Lovitz was the most vocally outspoken of the bunch, allegedly referring to the movie as “Trapped in Bullshit.” It sounds like these onset problems stemmed from writer/director George Gallo having little interest in actually directing the movie. Again Lovitz spoke out claiming that Cage actually directed portions of the film because Gallo simply refused to give direction.

I guess this is why Gallo has had a much better career as a writer than as a director.

The fact that Cage may have given direction for some scenes definitely shows. Cage switches up his accent a number of times throughout the film. What’s interesting about this is I don’t think he was forgetting the accent he was doing from scene to scene. I think he was actually making a choice that his character would change how he talked from time to time. At one point he even uses a pretty solid Keanu. In addition to the constant mixup with the accents, he delivers a number of wonderful over-the-top line readings. They’re like these little mini Cage freak-outs, the best of which come in scenes opposite Lovitz and Carvey.

Unfortunately Cage doesn’t really make comedies like this anymore and this is a hard thing for me to admit. I’ve argued in that past that Cage’s films choices haven’t really changed that much over the years, I even did so in a piece for One Perfect Shot.

Movies like Raising Arizona, Amos & Andrew and Guarding Tess starring Cage used to pop up on a regular basis. The quality of those movies all vary quite a bit but Cage brings something interesting to each film. Then he did Leaving Las Vegas and the comedies seemed to stop. Of course he’s still done movies that have had very funny moments, things like The Weather Man and Kick-Ass come to mind, but the screwball comedy has been missing.

One of his more recent efforts, Army of One – the story of a man who attempts to hunt down Osama Bin Laden – does re-visit the screwball comedy formula. In comparing it to the rest of Cage’s work it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, which is exactly where I’d put Trapped in Paradise. The film does show that Cage does still have the comedic chops to go out there and carry a comedy.

So Santa, if you’re listening, here’s what I’d like for Christmas – more Nicolas Cage screwball comedies please. No one is going to say Trapped in Paradise is their favorite Nic Cage movie, but it’s a fun side of Cage that I’d love to see return.

*Christmas with Cage. How is that not a yearly holiday special? Come on Netflix, get on that!

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Chris Coffel is a contributor at Film School Rejects. He’s a connoisseur of Christmas horror, a Nic Cage fanatic, and bad at Rocket League. He can be found on Twitter here: @Chris_Coffel. (He/Him)