Perfectly suitable for prime-time exposure on any family-skewing cable network, “Paradise, Texas” is a pleasant but predictable drama about a fading action actor who tries to reunite with his family — and reignite his stalled career — by starring in an indie drama being shot on location in the small Texas town of his birth. Solid cast of familiar faces and promising newcomers provides emotional heft for the cliche-riddled scenario, and first-class production values help make the unassuming pic modestly diverting.
Timothy Bottoms is effectively low-key as Mack Cameron, an thesp whose stock has fallen significantly since he played the lead in “the third highest-grossing movie of 1986.” Still widely recognized and besieged for autographs, Cameron nonetheless finds himself phoning his agent with ever-increasing desperation.
Trouble is, he finds work just often enough to keep him away too long, too often, from his young sons (Dylan Michael Patton, Emilio Mazur) and his increasingly unsympathetic wife (Meredith Baxter).
Mack hopes to improve both his personal and professional lives when he opts to star in an indie pic before taking a supporting turn in a Hollywood blockbuster. With his family in tow, he returns to his roots in homespun Littleton, Texas, just down the road from the long-shuttered Paradise Drive-In theater that his father used to operate. (“Paradise, Texas” may be the only pic in which a character waxes nostalgic for the 1962 remake of “Mutiny on the Bounty.”)
At first, production goes smoothly, and the family re-bonds eagerly. In addition, Mack graciously mentors his adolescent co-star, CJ Kinney (Ben Estus), a local farm boy whose talent for dancing has heretofore displeased his disapproving father. (Think of “Billy Elliott, Texas Style.”)
But when Mack finds the impatient producers of the Hollywood blockbuster have cast someone else in his role, the actor almost immediately degenerates into a boozy and embittered lout who alienates his family and endangers CJ. It takes a brush with tragedy, a stroll down Memory Lane, and a well-placed sock in the jaw to make the self-indulgent thesp see the error of his ways.
Director Lorraine Senna emphasizes local color — pic was shot near Houston — while artfully maneuvering around obvious budgetary restraints. Well-cast supporting players, including Polly Bergen as Mack’s feisty publicist mom and Sheryl Lee as CJ’s supportive mother, add welcome shadings of color to thinly written parts. Newcomer Estes makes an engaging impression, though his dance sequences are shot and edited in such a fragmented style as to suggest that — well, maybe dancing really isn’t his forte.