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Movie Review

Lifelong friends Alice and Darlene decide to celebrate high school graduation with a trip to Bangkok (of course, their parents think they're going to Hawaii). Alice is a wild girl who likes to live on the edge and break the rules. Darlene is a naive follower. Once in Thailand, they meet Nick Parks, a handsome young con man who charms their Birkenstocks off and offers to buy them plane tickets for a quick jaunt to Hong Kong. Little do the girls realize that Nick is setting them up. Before they can get off the tarmac, Alice and Darlene get busted for trafficking heroin and are sent to a dingy women's prison referred to as Brokedown Palace (filmmakers lifted the term from a Grateful Dead song). The guards are abusive. The place is crawling with vermin. Desperate for help, they employ the services of expatriate attorney "Yankee Hank," an American ambulance chaser. There are trials. Appeals. A failed escape attempt. And through it all, the girls' friendship is challenged . . . and ultimately strengthened.

Positive Elements: Alice and Darlene share a close bond that shows—and grows—as they're forced to look out for one another in prison. Several other inmates kindly show these "new girls" the ropes, giving them information and advice to ease their pain and make the transition smoother. In the end, Alice makes an impassioned plea accepting sole responsibility for the crime they didn't commit, simply to earn her friend's freedom, saying, "I am of weak character and want to make up for my mistakes." Indeed, Alice's checkered past comes back to haunt them both throughout the story, sending the message that character counts over time. Her cynical mid-film assertion that freedom is just an illusion is transformed once she makes this supreme sacrifice. In addition to feeling free as the result of doing what she deems "the right thing," Alice seems to have a deeper appreciation for the freedom she once took for granted.

Spiritual Content: Hank suggests that the girls write letters to influential people back home, including their priest. For all of the times God's name is mentioned (see below), no one ever bothers to pray—an activity conspicuous in its absence considering the characters' circumstances.

Crude or Profane Language: Approximately two dozen profanities include anatomical slang (once to describe Darlene's father), an f-word, 7 s-words and 10 uses of God's name in vain. Also, Alice gives "the finger" to a guard.

Sexual Content/Nudity: Nick seduces Darlene and they spend the night together (sex is implied, but not shown). There's also brief, non-sexual rear nudity in a distant shot of women in prison.

Violent Content: Female guards aggressively shove prisoners into rooms and onto the ground. Discipline involves forcefully smacking Alice's arms with a stick. Police point guns at the girls in airport and after an attempted escape.

Drug and Alcohol Content: Teenagers at a post-graduation party drink beer and hard liquor (the label on a bottle gives Alice the idea to head for Asia—the first in a series of mistakes). At a Thailand hotel, Alice and Darlene order alcoholic beverages. In prison, they both smoke cigarettes and Alice is shown squelching her pain with marijuana (an irresponsible glamorization of drug use). Hank's friend, Roy, drinks booze. Elsewhere, the two men light up cigars at a kickboxing match. Smuggling heroin is a serious crime to the Thai authorities, but many officials are having their palms greased to look the other way. Also, Hank and his teenage clients never make an anti-drug statement by decrying heroin as evil; they're just concerned about who's getting blamed for it.

Other Negative Elements: Alice and Darlene lie to their parents about their travel plans. (Upon reflection, the parents deserve a hearty dose of blame for the girls' predicament. What well-adjusted parent lets two 17-year-old girls—one with a reputation for getting into trouble—take an unsupervised vacation to Hawaii? They didn't even ask the kids for an itinerary! The fact that Alice and Darlene end up in a "Thai"t spot could have been avoided had these parents done their job in the first place.) The girls hang out by the pool of a swanky hotel even though they're not paying guests, and order food and drinks by giving the waiter a phony room number. With few exceptions, the men in this film are portrayed as nasty, opportunistic, corrupt, untrustworthy or some combination of the above. Even Hank sees the girls' plight as a meal ticket until his wife, who refuses to give up on the case, intervenes.

Summary: Young fans of Brokedown Palace will undoubtedly defend it as a celebration of friendship, not to mention a cautionary tale—a real-life illustration of moral "sowing and reaping." Which it is. And the final scene conveys nobility, even if it's just slightly more dramatic than one girl handing the other a "Get Out of Jail Free" card across a Monopoly board. But the real crime committed here is the film's amoral stance on casual sex, teen drinking and illegal drug use. Confusing messages for teens. Add the profanity (most of it coming from Danes) and Brokedown Palace boasts more squalor than valor.

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Claire Danes as Alice Marano; Kate Beckinsale as Darlene Davis; Bill Pullman as "Yankee Hank" Greene; Daniel Lapaine as Nick Parks; Lou Diamond Phillips as Roy Knox


Jonathan Kaplan ( )


20th Century Fox



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On Video

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Bob Smithouser

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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