' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday's Old Fashioned: Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)

Cashing in on formula is not and never has been the sole domain of Marvel Comics. Colonel Tom Parker, the real villain of every bad Elvis movie, recognized how a recycled cinematic blueprint could yield box office from the moment he first trotted his Mississippi-born cash cow out in front of the cameras wearing a Hawaiian shirt. “Blue Hawaii” was not Elvis’s finest couple hours on screen, but it was the most successful, and the most pretty to look at, and came equipped with a strong soundtrack. So for much of his remaining acting career, Elvis was forced to star in “Blue Hawaii”-esque re-treads, combining songs with scenery and lilting co-stars. As the quality dipped, his on screen interest waned.

“Paradise, Hawaiian Style” was released in 1966, two years before his mammoth NBC Comeback Special, which naturally meant he needed something from which to come back. There was a whole lotta something, sure, but “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” was as emblematic a reason as any. The man who let loose on Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)” only twelve years hence was reduced to rhapsodizing “Queenie Wahine’s Papaya” in a film so slack it practically evaporates right there on the screen. If the King had been a canoe in this exercise of blah, he would have been capsized, floating along with the current, letting it take him wherever, because whatever.


He stars as Rick Richards, the least-inspiring character name in an IMDB profile otherwise littered with inspiring character names, instantly suggesting not so much carefree as I-Don’t-Care. Indeed, Elvis looks like he doesn’t care. The pounds he has accumulated since his svelte “Blue Hawaii” self are noticeable and so are the attempts by director Michael Moore to try and disguise them. When he breaks into song, as he must, there is no cover story given, not even an unconvincing bare bones anecdote, to explain his crooning and hula dancing. We’re past the point, apparently, of “explanation”; “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” simply arrives intact.

Rick Richards actually has moderate gristle on his bones, if only the cocktail napkin on which the so-called screenplay was sketched over guava drinks wanted to do anything with it. Whereas the Chad Gates of “Blue Hawaii” was a G.I. returning home and a young man standing up to his father’s misplaced wishes to join the family business, Rick is less than noble. He is irresponsible, a pugnacious flirt, which he is why he gets fired from his airline job and casts off to the islands. Once there, he concocts a helicopter charter business with his pal Kohana (James Shigeta, whose incessant incredulous looks aimed Elvis’s way are the best thing in the whole movie), a business scheme that hews awful close to his tour guide business in “Blue Hawaii” aside from actual devotion to the job. Every decision Rick makes stems directly from skirt-cashing, and every skirt he chases puts his fledgling company and his pal’s backing in serious danger. Rick hardly cares and that fecklessness matches Elvis’s.

We aren’t supposed to care either. We’re supposed to string up a hammock in our living room and watch with a nary care in the world, imbibing the attractive photography, the sand & the surf, and smiling at the rendition of “Aloha O’e”, which is a pretty tough song to screw up even if you’re one of the Elvis Impersonators from “Honeymoon in Vegas”. But to simply sluff it off is to ignore the idea that moviemaking disasters don’t always have to light up the screen with their wasted money and undercooked “ideas”. No, sometimes a silver screen disaster is glimpsed in nothing more than the painfully bored body language of its star, one who may be in paradise but wishes he was anywhere else in the world.

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