I recently rewatched Club Paradise and I discovered that ten year old me had terrible taste in movies.
Robin Williams plays Jack Moniker, a Chicago fireman who gets blown out of a building while rescuing a dog. Living off of his disability payments, he retires to the island of St. Nicholas, which is basically Jamaica but with less weed. Jack and reggae musician Ernest Reed (Jimmy Cliff) open up their own Club Med-style resort, Club Paradise. Jack doesn’t know much about the resort business but he does know how to put together a good brochure. Almost the entire cast of SCTV shows up at Club Paradise, looking for a tropical vacation. Things quickly go wrong because Jack doesn’t know how to run a resort and there’s also an evil developer (played by Brian Doyle-Murray) who wants Club Paradise to fail so that he can get the land.
Club Paradise has got a huge and impressive cast, the majority of whom probably signed on because they were looking forward to a paid Caribbean vacation. Peter O’Toole plays the British-appointed governor of St. Nicholas. Twiggy plays Jack’s girlfriend. Joanna Cassidy plays a reporter and Adolph Caesar is cast in the role of St. Nicolas’s corrupt prime minister. Because the film was directed by Harold Ramis, it is full of Ramis’s co-stars from SCTV. Andrea Martin tries to get her husband to enjoy the islands as much as she’s enjoying them. Joe Flaherty is the crazed pilot who flies people to the resort. Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy play two nerdy friends who are both named Barry and who are only interested in scoring weed, getting laid, and working on their tan. Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy playing nerds? It’s a shock, I know.
There’s enough funny people in Club Paradise to ensure that there are a few isolated laughs. Not surprisingly, the movie comes to life whenever Moranis and Levy are onscreen. (If I had to guess, I imagine they were the reason why ten year-old me liked this movie so much.) Needless to say, Jimmy Cliff also provides a killer soundtrack. But Club Paradise ultimately doesn’t work because the script is too disjointed and it feels more like an uneven collection of skits than an actual film. It’s impossible to tell whether we’re supposed to think of Club Paradise as being the worst resort ever or if we’re supposed to be worried that the bad guys will shut it down. For a movie like this, you need a strong central presence to hold things together. Unfortunately, Robin Williams’s style of comedy is too aggressive for the role of Jack. The role was originally written for Bill Murray and it shows. Most of Jack’s lines sound like things you would expect Bill Murray to say in his trademark laid back fashion and it is easy to imagine Murray redeeming some of Club Paradise‘s weaker scenes simply by attitude alone. Instead, Robin Williams is so frantic that you never buy he could be happy living a laid back life on a Caribbean island. As played by Williams, Jack often comes across as being unreasonably angry at everyone staying at Club Paradise and it’s hard to care whether or not he manages to save his resort or not.
Club Paradise was a bomb at the box office. Harry Shearer, who was originally credited with working on the screenplay, hated the movie so much that he requested his name be removed from the credits. (Instead, credit is given to Edward Roboto.) As a result of the film’s failure, it would be 7 years before Harold Ramis would get to direct another movie. Fortunately, that movie was Groundhog Day and this time, Ramis was able to get Bill Murray.