TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1989) – Raquel Welch, not Lubitsch

The following is my entry in The So Bad It’s Good Blogathon, being hosted by Rebecca at the blog Taking Up Room from Feb. 22-24, 2019. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on terrible movies whose very lack of quality makes them entertaining!

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound, if you care.)

In reviewing Rich and Famous (1981), the late film critic Pauline Kael described the movie’s stars, Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset, as “great underpopulated bodies.” To make it a trashy triumvirate, I would add Raquel Welch, who always looks smashing but is unable to convincingly convey any emotion beyond snarkiness.

At the time of the initial broadcast of Trouble in Paradise on CBS in May of 1989, Welch did an interview with the Chicago Tribune in which she tried to promote the TV-movie as a substantial romantic film, stating, “I won’t play a role where I’m used as just window dressing.” You’d never guess it from this movie, whose makers obviously knew where their bread and butter lay. There are long, luxurious shots of Welch in the skimpiest of lingerie. There’s even a shot where the camera shows her from behind while she’s undressing, exposing the teasingest little bit of sideboob.

But hey, no window dressing here!

So much for the movie’s primary appeal — let’s get to the plot. Welch plays Rachel Baxley, the newly widowed wife of a U.S. diplomat who was recently murdered under mysterious circumstances.

After the diplomat’s funeral (on which the movie opens), Rachel intends to accompany the body back to San Francisco. In a bit of expository dialogue that sticks out like a sore thumb, Rachel declares that she cannot abide by flying. So she decides to go to Frisco via the cargo ship that is carrying her husband’s casket — a ship that has the barest of a crew and does not usually carry visitors. (“The Love Boat” it ain’t.) While getting aboard the ship, Rachel encounters one of the crew members — Jake (Breaker Morant’s Jack Thompson), a hard-drinking, macho sailor — who tries to impress Rachel with his courtliness and gets only her withering disdain in return.

Unfortunately, the ship encounters a violent storm and eventually crashes and sinks near a deserted island. No points for guessing who the only two survivors are.

The movie’s only attempt at plausibility is a sinister subplot that doesn’t figure hugely in the movie until its last 10 minutes, so let’s concentrate on the movie’s silliness. Even after they’ve come to onshore after the shipwreck, Rachel and Jake never look less than perfectly coiffed. Spoiled brat Rachel is eager to return to civilization. But Jake is content to spend the rest of his life on the island, pointing out to Rachel that the island has everything they need to survive comfortably — including, apparently, an entire make-up crew.

(And, even given Jake’s roguishness, he’s surprisingly nonchalant about having seen his fellow shipmates perish in front of him.)

It’s not giving much away to state that this initially combative duo will eventually find common romantic ground, but the path to them getting there sure is painful to watch. Thompson plays drunkard Jake as though he was Humphrey Bogart’s understudy in The African Queen, while Welch plays the simplest light-comedy scenes as though the island had inadvertently planted a stick up her well-toned posterior.

A final debit worth noting is Chris Neal’s score, which plays mostly like Jimmy Buffett outtakes.

So in summation, the movie’s virtues amount to a few lovely shots of island scenery, and loving shots of Welch’s famous physique. Oh, I forgot to mention — a dog named Sid plays Jake’s island mascot, Mr. Mutt, and gives what is probably the best performance in the movie.

Here’s CBS’ original teaser for the movie: