Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Looking slightly too long in the tooth to be recent high-school graduates, Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale play two ill-starred American tourists in Brokedown Palace, the latest of what's shaping up to be a regular, if unlikely, '90s sub-genre: the foreign-prison film. Here, their post-grad vacation in Thailand seems to be going well enough until the pair encounters a charming, seductive Australian (Daniel Lapaine) who convinces them to spend a few days in Hong Kong. Shortly before boarding the plane, however, Danes and Beckinsale are arrested by Thai police, who discover a considerable amount of cocaine in Danes' backpack, a development that lands them in prison with squinty barrister Bill Pullman serving as their only hope for freedom. Where last year's similarly themed, considerably better Return To Paradise had a genuine moral dilemma at its heart, Brokedown Palace seems interested only in portraying how tough life can be for American teens in Thai prisons. It doesn't help that director Jonathan Kaplan pulls every possible punch. In a version of hell that might have been conceived by the editors of 17, Danes and Beckinsale are given bad haircuts, forced to wear unflattering ankle-length skirts, made to eat unappetizing food, confined with a prisoner who places fish heads in Danes' sleeping mat, and, in general, forcibly bummed out. The once-reliable Danes is a particular detriment, but it's really hard to care whether either character escapes from what looks like a really unappealing summer camp, particularly when Brokedown Palace conveys their distress primarily by alternating shots of the two leads looking slightly harrowed with montage sequences set to trip-hop music.

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