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Film review: Trapped in Paradise

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The movies have brought together some wonderfully unexpected comedy teams over the years. And I'm not referring to performers who were teams when they entered films — the Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis . . . .

Rather, I mean those for which studios, producers or casting directors can claim responsibility, such wonderful matches as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, the trio of Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Tony Randall . . . all of whom went on to star in several wonderful films together, in addition to their individual work.

But occasionally, stars who are teamed for a movie do not click together. Witness "I Love Trouble," which tried to match up Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte, who demonstrated no rapport on the screen. In cases like this, it's simply a lack of chemistry. The comic rhythms are off, the dialogue becomes unintentional cross-talk, the acting styles are too disparate . . . whatever.

And now comes the disastrous "Trapped in Paradise," which brings Nicolas Cage together with a pair of "Saturday Night Live" alumni, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey.

Cage does his usual low-key, rage-in-check-but-just-beneath-the-surface interpretation of a character who wants to do the right thing but has larcenous tendencies. His sidekicks, Lovitz and Carvey, are also in familiar territory: Lovitz is a chronic liar (sound familiar?) while kleptomaniac Carvey does a high-pitched, "deez-dem-doze" voice while making goofy faces. Carvey's shtick in particular grows rapidly tiresome, as do the redundant gags about his need to steal everything he sees.

If putting these three guys together isn't off-putting enough, how about this — they're playing brothers.

The story has Cage as a restaurant manager in New York City, where he lives with his foul-mouthed mother (Florence Stanley). Meanwhile, his brothers are paroled from prison, where they have learned of a bank in the small town of Paradise, Penn., where the guard sleeps and the video camera doesn't work. It's begging to be robbed.

Through a series of convoluted machinations, Lovitz and Carvey manipulate Cage into taking them to Paradise, where they rob the bank and then find themselves stuck in a snowstorm, unable to leave town.

As the naive townfolk treat them kindly, unaware that they are the bank robbers, Cage begins to melt and regret his misdeed. Eventually, Carvey begins to feel the same way — and in the end, they attempt to return the money to the bank.

At the same time, the convicts who told Lovitz and Carvey about Paradise hear of the robbery and, feeling double-crossed, break out of prison. To facilitate matters, they kidnap the boys' mother.

All of this takes place on Christmas Eve, and "Trapped in Paradise" employs elements of "It's a Wonderful Life" and other holiday films as it attempts to satirize small-town life and movie criminal cliches.

Unfortunately, none of this is funny. The script is underdeveloped, the comedy feels misdirected and the lack of comic chemistry between Cage, Lovitz and Carvey is downright annoying. (This is the kind of movie where a three-legged dog named "Tripod" is supposed to be inherently amusing.)

In the end, it plays like a feature-length "Saturday Night Live" skit, setting up an interesting idea but then having no idea where to take it.

"Trapped in Paradise" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and vulgarity.