Review: ‘Paradise Highway,’ starring Juliette Binoche, Frank Grillo and Morgan Freeman

September 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Hala Finley and Juliette Binoche in “Paradise Highway” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Paradise Highway”

Directed by Anna Gutto

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mississippi, the crime drama film “Paradise Highway” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A tough-talking trucker find herself on the run from the FBI and trafficking gangsters when she rescues an orphaned, adolescent girl, who is a human trafficking victim and has killed one of the human traffickers.

Culture Audience: “Paradise Highway” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Juliette Binoche and Morgan Freeman, but the movie is substandard and frequently dull and has too many implausible plot elements.

Morgan Freeman and Cameron Monaghan in “Paradise Highway” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche is unfortunately miscast as a gruff truck driver who goes on the run with a child trafficking victim in “Paradise Highway,” a tedious and tacky movie that is ineptly made on every single level. And just because another Oscar-winning star (Morgan Freeman) is in this horrible film doesn’t make it any better. Freeman has been doing a lot of bad and forgettable movies in this late stage of his career. In “Paradise Alley,” he plays yet another grizzled and world-weary law enforcement agent who always seems to know more than everyone else around him. Yawn.

Written and directed by Anna Gutto, “Paradise Highway” rips off too many clichés from other movies about a jaded person with questionable morality who’s suddenly forced to take care of an orphaned child while going on the run from people who want to kill both of them. And you know what that means: The cynical adult ends up bonding with the kid in a parental way, after many arguments and near-death experiences. (See 1980’s “Gloria,” starring Gena Rowlands, which was a groundbreaking movie for this concept.)

Viewers are supposed to believe that Binoche—an elegant French actress who is usually in much-classier movies—is a tough-talking French Canadian trucker named Sally, who’s secretly involved with drug smuggling in the United States, where Sally currently lives. Sally (who is a bachelorette with no children) communicates by CB radio with other female trucker friends named Rose (played by Veronica Ferres), Pattie (played by Desiree Wood) and Dolly (played by Dianne McNair-Smith). Their CB radio talk looks like something out of a Lifetime movie version of the trucking lifestyle. The beginning of “Paradise Highway” shows a montage of these female truckers talking to each other by radio, which makes it all too predictable what will happen later in the movie when Sally gets into serious trouble.

Why is Sally a secret drug smuggler? She’s doing it because her younger brother Dennis (played by Frank Grillo), who’s in prison on drug trafficking charges, is being threatened by his drug trafficking cronies. These thugs say that Dennis will be killed by their allies in prison unless Dennis enlists someone on the outside of prison to replace Dennis. Dennis turned to Sally to be his outside proxy. He tells Sally to do whatever he asks her to do, or else he says he will be murdered in prison.

One of the first signs that “Paradise Highway” is an idiotic movie is that even though it’s mentioned that Dennis and Sally grew up in the same abusive household, Dennis and Sally have very different accents from different countries. Dennis has an American accent from the East Coast, whereas Sally’s accent is French Canadian. The movie gives no explanation for this accent discrepancy. And it doesn’t help that Binoche is never completely believable as a rough-and-tumble French Canadian trucker.

One day, Sally goes on what she thinks will be a typical drug shipment pickup in Mississippi. Instead, to her horror and shock, she finds out that she is being tasked with trafficking a girl who has been kidnapped and is about 11 or 12 years old. “No way,” Sally says, “I don’t take people.”

One of the traffickers in charge is a sour-faced woman named Claire (played by Christiane Seidel), who has this to say to Sally in response: “No way I can promise what will happen to your brother if you don’t take the girl where she fucking needs to go.” Sally reluctantly takes the girl, whom Sally later finds out is a runaway orphan named Leila (played by Hala Finley). Leila says that because she ran away from an orphanage, the chances are low that anyone is looking for her.

Before Sally goes to the pre-determined location, she gets a call from Dennis, who has smuggled a disposable burner phone into prison. Sally angrily tells Dennis that human trafficking isn’t part of their deal, but Dennis tells her just to go through with the plan, or else he’ll get killed. Throughout the movie, Dennis keeps calling Sally on a burner phone, which makes you wonder how he’s able to have all of these secret phone conversations in a maximum security prison.

And so, Sally agrees to go along with the plan to drive Leila to a human trafficker named Paul McKinney (played by Jim Dougherty) at a pre-determined location in a remote wooded area. From the beginning, Leila shows that she’s not going to go quietly, and she puts up a fight, so she has to be bound and gagged. When they get to the dropoff location, Sally unties Leila to get ready to hand Leila over to Paul.

Things descend into chaos when Leila takes a shotgun that Sally had in the truck and shoots Paul dead. In a panic, Sally and Leila flee the scene. Most of “Paradise Alley” is about Sally and Leila trying to hide from the criminals and law enforcement officials who are looking for them. Sally is afraid to go to another state, so they stay in Mississippi, where “Paradise Highway” was filmed.

It isn’t long before the FBI gets involved, because the FBI has been investigating this trafficking ring, which now has one of its key members murdered. FBI special agent Finley Sterling (played by Cameron Monaghan) is on the case. But he’s essentially being told what to do by FBI retiree Gerick (played by Freeman), who now works as a consultant for the FBI.

Gerick and Finley have a stereotypical movie relationship of an older cop working with a younger cop. The older cop treats the eager-to-please younger cop as naïve and stupid, while the younger cop tries to prove the older cop is misjudging and underestimating the younger cop. The older cop in this cliché partnership is also usually more willing to bend the rules, while the younger cop is more “by the book.”

It isn’t long before Sally is identified as the prime suspect in Paul’s murder and is exposed as being involved in the trafficking ring. And so, Gerick and Finley lead law enforcement’s hunt for Sally. They soon find out that Leila is with Sally, who could also be arrested for kidnapping and human trafficking. Claire and her partner in crime Terrence (played by Walker Babington) are also in hot pursuit of Sally, with the intention of killing Sally and Leila, who both know too much about the trafficking ring.

“Paradise Highway” has a scene where Sally confides in Leila about why she is so loyal to Dennis. Sally explains that when she and Dennis were children, their widowed father would physically abuse them. Dennis got the worst of their father’s beatings and would protect Sally as much as possible from these physical assaults. Their father also sexually abused Sally. Sally says of her loyalty to Dennis: “Now, it’s my turn to take care of him.”

One of the dumbest things about “Paradise Highway” is that Sally’s getaway vehicle stands out for being a green-and-white semi truck, but she uses this huge truck the entire time that she and Leila are trying to “hide.” Sally also makes no effort to hide or disguise her license plates. In other words, using the truck makes her much easier to find than if she used a regular, non-descript vehicle, but the movie unrealistically shows Sally being able to dodge her pursuers for an extended period of time in this massive truck.

Why can’t law enforcement use helicopters to find Sally and her truck? The movie offers this silly excuse: Gerick goes to a Mississippi sheriff (played by Bill Luckett), who’s portrayed as a hick, to use the department’s helicopter. The sheriff tells Gerick that his department doesn’t have a helicopter because the department can’t afford a helicopter. It’s all so ridiculous because the FBI has the money to get its own helicopter and doesn’t need the permission of an underfunded sheriff’s department.

“Paradise Highway” is filled with too many scenarios of bungling law enforcement and the relentlessly moronic decisions made by Sally, who never thinks of a way to find another vehicle to use. The movie’s action scenes are poorly staged. The editing in the movie is amateurish.

All of the cast members give mediocre or lackluster performances, although Finley, in her portrayal of troubled Leila, is better than most of the cast. It’s not enough to save this abysmal movie, which has a very corny and unrealistic ending. Simply put: “Paradise Highway” leads to a hellish road of lousy filmmaking.

Lionsgate released “Paradise Highway” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 29, 2022. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 6, 2022.

Review: ‘Shattered’ (2022), starring Cameron Monaghan, Frank Grillo, Lilly Krug and John Malkovich

February 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Frank Grillo, Cameron Monaghan and Lilly Krug in “Shattered” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Shattered” (2022)

Directed by Luis Prieto

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Colorado, the dramatic film “Shattered” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with two African Americans and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A tech multimillionaire gets in a sexual relationship with an alluring young woman and finds out that she has sinister intentions for him.

Culture Audience: “Shattered” will appeal mainly to people who like watching tacky crime thrillers.

John Malkovich in “Shattered” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Trashy and utterly predictable, “Shattered” dumbs down all the stereotypes of a murderous female sociopath who seduces an unlucky lover. John Malkovich’s campy performance as a creepy voyeur can’t even save this mess. Malkovich has a supporting role in this formulaic dud of a movie, which he helped finance, since he’s one of the producers of “Shattered.” There used to be a time when Oscar-nominated Malkovich was known for his edgy roles in artsy movies. And now, he’s reduced to making B-movie garbage.

Directed by Luis Prieto and written by David Loughery, “Shattered” has trailers (red-band and green-band) that give away 90% of what happens in the film’s plot. The only thing that’s not shown in the “Shattered” trailers is who survives and who’s dead at the end of the movie. But even the deaths are very easy to predict.

Loughery has a history of writing schlocky movies about people being terrorized by deranged killers who at first appear to be friendly: His six previous movies are 2008’s “Lakeview Terrace,” 2009’s “Obsessed,” 2013’s “Blindsided,” 2013’s “Nurse,” 2019’s “The Intruder” and 2020’s “Fatale.” All of them end exactly how you think they’re going to end.

“Shattered” has a concept that’s very similar to “Fatale.” Both movies are a ripoff of the “Fatal Attraction” template: A married man gets involved with a seductive woman, who turns out to be a ruthless psycho, and she’s out for bloody revenge when she doesn’t get what she wants.

At least “Fatale” made some effort to have a few surprise twists, even if the ending was a foregone conclusion. There are absolutely no real surprises in “Shattered,” especially if you’ve seen the trailer before watching the movie. Even the movie title “Shattered” is unimaginative and lazy.

The married man in “Shattered” is actually close to getting divorced. He just hasn’t signed the paperwork yet. He’s a retired tech multimillionaire named Chris Decker (played by Cameron Monaghan), who lives in seclusion in a sleek mansion somewhere in the Colorado mountains. (“Shattered” was actually filmed in Montana.)

The movie’s opening scene shows Chris in a video chat with his estranged wife Jamie Decker (woodenly played by Sasha Luss), as they discuss their impending divorce. Chris and Jamie have an adopted daughter named Willow (played by Ridley Asha Bateman), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Jamie and Chris both adore Willow very much. It’s not mentioned how long Chris and Jamie have been separated, but Jamie has full custody of Willow, while Chris has visitation rights.

During this conversation, Chris says remorsefully to Jamie: “I should’ve fought harder to keep us together.” Later, it’s revealed that Chris founded a tech company that he sold for millions, and he retired from working. But his financial success came at a cost to his marriage, because Jamie says that Chris cared more about the company than saving the marriage. Chris tells Jamie that he only sold his company for the money.

Chris now has a lot of time on his hands, but it’s too late, because Jamie and Willow no longer live with him. Chris’ regret over how his marriage ended is the main reason why he hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet. Jamie tells Chris that it’s time for both of them to move on with their lives. And so, Chris finally agrees to sign the divorce papers and says he’ll talk to a lawyer they know named Kendall about it.

After she gets off of the phone with Chris, Jamie is seen talking to Willow, who is an adorable and perceptive child. Willow tells Jamie that she misses Chris. Jamie tells Willow that people can love each other but not be together. This opening scene is less than five minutes long, and it’s as far as the movie goes in showing a backstory for any of the characters.

The movie vaguely describes Chris as a security technology expert. Therefore, his mansion is supposed to be decked out in a lot of the latest security systems. It’s all for nothing though, because Chris lets someone into his life who turns out to be a homicidal menace who wants to steal his fortune.

Her name is Skyler “Sky” Webb (played by Lilly Krug), who appears to be a sweet and innocent college-aged woman when Chris meets her one evening while he’s shopping at a grocery store, and she asks him to recommend a bottle of wine. The movie has a clunky and not-very-believable way of explaining why multimillionaire Chris does all of his own grocery shopping: He’s such a recluse, he doesn’t have any servants.

But why then doesn’t “reclusive tech whiz” Chris do any of his grocery shopping online or call to place orders for delivery? Don’t expect any logical answers in “Shattered,” because it’s the type of movie that has too many unanswered questions and illogical plot holes. And if Chris were as smart as he thinks he is, he wouldn’t have been so easily fooled by Sky. Chris and Sky exchange flirty looks during their conversation, and then they go their separate ways.

Outside of the grocery store, Chris sees Sky looking anxious. She explains to him that her Uber ride cancelled her appointment. Without hesitation, Chris offers Sky a ride to her home. Is it bad judgment to offer a ride to a total stranger or accept a ride from a total stranger under these circumstances? Of course. But people do it a lot in real life, and movies like “Shattered” wouldn’t exist if everyone used good judgment.

During this drive, Sky says that she and her roommate, whom she calls “Loony Lisa,” had an argument, so Sky is reluctant to go back to her apartment. Chris, who’s clearly attracted to Sky, then invites Sky to spend the night at his place. Sky appears to be reluctant and says no at first, but then she says yes.

After Chris shows Sky a little bit of his mansion (including his wine cellar, because he says he’s a “wine nerd”), he asks her what she does for a living. Sky says that she’s a model, but she has a night job working at a bar whose name she mentions in the conversation. Chris and Sky hook up, and their steamy affair begins.

After spending the night with Chris, Sky goes back to her place, which is a shabby apartment building that looks like it used to be a motel. The building’s owner/landlord is a weirdo named Ronald (played by Malkovich), who happens to live right next door to Sky and her roommate Lisa (played by Ash Santos), who are two weeks’ behind on their rent. It’s later revealed that Lisa has been living there for eight years, while Sky moved in more recently. Ronald tells Lisa, “You were happier before Sky moved in … I’m not only your landlord. I’m your friend.”

Ronald’s proximity to Sky and Lisa allows him to easily spy on them. When Sky comes home, he knows she spent the night elsewhere. Ronald looks through the window and says with disgust, “Walk of shame!” He’s by himself when he utters this remark, which is the first sign that Ronald talks out loud to himself when he’s alone.

Ronald also shows his disdain for Sky when he warns her about not paying the rent: “Don’t play games with me. I’m not the kind of man you want to trifle with.” When he makes this threat, Ronald holds up a rose and makes a lewd licking gesture with his tongue—in case it wasn’t clear enough that Ronald is a sleazy jerk.

Lisa is upset that Sky spent the night somewhere without saying where she was. Ronald is annoyed that Sky doesn’t seem to care about the unpaid rent. Sky brushes off Lisa and Ronald, as if she can’t be bothered with them. Why? Because her plan has already been set in motion to get Chris’ money.

Because Sky deliberately didn’t give Chris her phone number, he tracks her down at the bar where she works. And that’s when he tells her that he’s about to be divorced and that he’s a father of a daughter who visits him on a regular basis. She admits to him that she lied to him about coming from a gypsy family. Sky says that she actually grew up in foster care and she thinks of herself as “damaged goods.” Chris says he was raised by his parents, but “they weren’t there for me.” This sob story exchange about their childhoods seems to make Chris feel a deeper bond to Sky.

One night, Sky and Chris are out on a date when they see a man trying to break into Chris’ car in the parking lot. Chris attempts to stop the man, who has a crowbar and viciously beats Chris and then runs away. The assault leaves Chris with a broken right leg and other injuries that require him to use a wheelchair or crutches to move around.

After he gets discharged from the hospital, guess who Chris decides is going to be his live-in nurse, even though she has no medical experience? It isn’t long before Chris tells Sky that he’s in love with her. Because Chris is on various medications for his injuries, she jokes in response: “It’s the drugs.”

Chris finds out that Sky is up to no good when he sees on the local TV news that her roommate Lisa was found murdered in their apartment and that the police are looking for Sky. When he asks Sky about it, she nonchalantly confesses that she was the one who murdered Lisa, who was not only her roommate but also her lover. (None of this is spoiler information, because it’s all in the movie’s red-band trailer.) And then all hell breaks loose.

The trailer for “Shattered” also reveals that Sky knows the man who beat up Chris because the assault was all a set-up masterminded by Sky. The attacker’s name is Kiju (played by Dat Phan), and he pays a visit to Sky in Chris’ home, after Chris finds out that Sky targeted him to get his money. Jonathan discovers that Sky is now living with Chris, so he goes to Chris’ mansion too, because Sky owes him money, and Jonathan wants to see how he can get money from this millionaire too. You can easily guess what happens to Jonathan.

Another cohort of Sky’s shows up in the last third of the movie. His name is Sebastian (played by Frank Grillo), who is not only her stepfather but he’s also Sky’s lover. Chris meets Sebastian when Chris almost escapes outside, and Sebastian pretends to be a Good Samaritan who picks Chris up in his car. When Sebastian hands Chris his phone to call for help, Chris finds out that Sebastian had really called Sky, and Sebastian has driven back to the mansion, where Sky is waiting for them. (Again, this plot twist is in the movie’s trailer.)

“Shattered” has a relatively small number of people in the movie’s cast. And since there’s a limited number of characters who are expected to live or die in the movie, it’s only a matter of time when Jamie and Willow show up at the mansion for a pre-arranged visit. They’re in for a shock when they find out that Chris is being held hostage. Who gets killed and what happens when Jamie and Willow show up are really the only parts of the movie’s plot that aren’t revealed in the trailers for “Shattered.”

One of the biggest problems with the movie, besides the terrible screenplay and direction, is that the performances are incompatible. Krug, Grillo and Malkovich ham it up, as if they know they’re in a cheesy B-movie and can’t take anything too seriously. Meanwhile, Monaghan and Luss are dead-serious and act as if they think they’re in a Hitchcock masterpiece. When a movie’s acting is this inconsistent, the fault ultimately lies with the director, who didn’t correct this problem while filming the movie.

But even if “Shattered” had Oscar-caliber acting, it still couldn’t erase how creatively bankrupt everything else is in the film. Sometimes, tawdry and predictable thrillers can be fun to watch if the tone is right and the characters are engaging. “Shattered” has none of those qualities and is as empty and forgettable as the movie’s entire story.

Lionsgate released “Shattered” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 14, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on February 22, 2022.

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