Whatever else one can say about it, "Trapped in Paradise" is undoubtedly the first movie in which a horsedrawn sleigh is chased by a cop car on Christmas Eve. An agreeable Middle American comedy intent upon reviving oldfashioned virtues, George Gallo's second feature doesn't serve up the big yocks needed to make it a breakout sleeper.

Whatever else one can say about it, “Trapped in Paradise” is undoubtedly the first movie in which a horsedrawn sleigh is chased by a cop car on Christmas Eve. An agreeable Middle American comedy intent upon reviving oldfashioned virtues in both filmmaking and real life, George Gallo’s second feature doesn’t serve up the big yocks needed to make it a breakout sleeper, but has enough in the way of sentiment and goofy situational predicaments to put it over as a serviceable family holiday attraction.

The film harks back to a time in life and movies when small-town America represented the ultimate in cozy togetherness, warmth and security.

In such a context, selfishness assumes the dimensions of a mortal sin, and what could be more selfish than crime for personal gain? This is where the Brothers Firpo come in.

An ungainly trio from New York, these boys, although well into their 30s, have yet to acquire any social or career smarts, especially Dave (Jon Lovitz), a congenital liar, and Alvin (Dana Carvey), a helpless kleptomaniac.

Bill (Nicolas Cage) is making an effort to go straight, but when he picks up his brothers upon their release from the pen he’s drawn straight back into their harebrained schemes. After a skirmish with the cops, the bozos land in Paradise, Pa., where the annual Christmas Eve Winterfest is getting under way.

But they may as well have traveled by time machine as by stolen car, as the locals seem to be living in a Frank Capra or Leo McCarey film from the 1930s or 1940s. Upon spying $ 275,000 being deposited in the bank, the Firpos don their ski masks and make off with the loot.

Film’s central gag is that the boys simply can’t make their getaway due to the overwhelming kindness of the inhabitants. Despite mounting circumstantial evidence, the townsfolk just can’t bring themselves to believe that these bumbling simpletons, who are criminals of the “Home Alone” school, could possibly have pulled such a heinous crime, especially when the money was destined for the church.

While being pursued by some dense deputies and a couple of escaped cons, the hapless brothers try to leave town by car, Greyhound, rowboat and sleigh, but keep being “rescued” in spite of themselves, even to the point of being invited to Christmas Eve dinner at the unwitting banker’s home.

It comes as absolutely no surprise when everything gets sorted out to general satisfaction even if, at nearly two hours, it takes a little longer than necessary.

But Gallo and his three leading men keep things merrily buoyant most of the time. Cage’s character is eternally split between his desire to keep the loot and determination to do the right thing, Lovitz’s Dave is a study in exasperation at his brother’s indecisiveness, and Alvin, with Carvey looking like Gary Oldman’s diminutive sibling, is the loose cannon, forever foraging around and, like Harpo Marx, pulling things out of his coat.

The politics of the piece, which can hardly be ignored, can be read either as a charmingly idealized portrait of an America that probably existed more in people’s imaginations than in real life or as an unrealistic impulse to turn back the clock.

One area where the picture gets the short end in the inevitable comparison with the old Hollywood is in supporting performances. Studio-era films were rife with great contract players who only had to show up onscreen to conjure up an array of aspects of, and attitudes toward, society. The community here pales in comparison to those on view in nearly any film produced during the period “Trapped in Paradise” is meant to evoke.

Ironically, pic was actually shot in Canada, and mostly at night in what looks to have been quite frigid conditions. Tech contributions are pro.

Trapped in Paradise

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Jon Davison/George Gallo production. Produced by Davison, Gallo. Executive producer, David Permut. Co-producers, Ellen Erwin, David Coatsworth. Directed, written by Gallo.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color; Panavision widescreen), Jack N. Green; editor, Terry Rawlings; music, Robert Folk; production design, Bob Ziembicki; art direction, Gregory P. Keen; set decoration, Gord Sim; costume design, Mary E. McLeod; sound (Dolby), Bruce Carwardine; assistant director, Martin Walters; second unit director/stunt coordinator, Glenn R. Wilder; second unit camera, Harald Ortenburger; casting, Donna Isaacson. Reviewed at the United Artists North Theater, Santa Fe, N.M., Nov. 17, 1994. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 112 MIN.

With

Bill Firpo - Nicolas Cage
Dave Firpo - Jon Lovitz
Alvin Firpo - Dana Carvey
Ed Dawson - John Ashton
Sarah Collins - Madchen Amick
Clifford Anderson - Donald Moffat
Shaddus Peyser - Richard Jenkins
Ma Firpo - Florence Stanley
Hattie Anderson - Angela Paton
Vic Mazzucci - Vic Manni
Caesar Spinoza - Frank Pesce
Chief Burnell - Sean McCann
Deputy Timmy Burnell - Paul Lazar
Clovis Minor - John Bergantine
Dick Anderson - Sean O'Bryan
Father Ritter - Richard B. Shull
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