An older criminal couple adopt a pair of larcenous teens for a doomed crime spree.
Larry Clark, director of Kids, continues to explore the margins of society in this refreshingly raw crime drama, managing to find strange, fragile beauties among bloody business deals and the inevitable falling-out of thieves. With something of the mood of the underrated Flesh And Bone, this is more interested in complex character interaction than bullet festivals and TV rerun name-dropping, establishing a distinct identity among too many Identikit post-modern noirs.
Bobbie (Kartheiser), an angelic punk who jemmies vending machines for loose change, is badly beaten by a security guard and doctored (with smack) by his roommate's veteran heist man uncle, Mel (Woods). When Bobbie is back in shape, Mel proposes the kid pitch in with him on a series of scores and the pair take off across country, with their equally unstable girlfriends - junkie Sidney (Griffith) and pregnant nymphet Rose (Wagner) - in tow. Though they argue as often as they make up, the quartet form an almost-touching pseudo-family, pulling together when one score goes bad thanks to some greedy rednecks who call themselves Hitler's Henchmen. But the life is too dangerous to be survived for long. Another ill-advised gig badly misfires, leading to carnage and the serious possibility that one of the buddies will kill the other.
Though the delicate-featured Kartheiser and Wagner are of the generation seen in Kids, Another Day In Paradise has the feel of a '70s crime/road movie. It gains a lot from veterans of that era, with Woods as dangerous as he's ever been and Griffith letting the camera close to her ravaged beauty.
Clark's odd sweetness makes the reprehensible characters almost tragic, and Woods' jittery energy is especially shown off in a couple of arguments that turn into violent confrontations, as well as in the sequences where Mel tries to show Bobbie the ropes. Lou Diamond Phillips has an unbilled cameo as an outrageously gay gangster, whose perfidy triggers the climax.
Less calculatedly outrageous than Kids, this has the narrative energy of a good crim picture to go with its haunting vision of America's lost souls.