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The Independent Critic

Crystal Bernard, Brad Stine, Brian Dennehy, Bobby Edner, William Shockley, Beth Grant
Brent Huff
Brent Huff, William Shockley
115 Mins.
EchoLight Entertainment

 "Welcome to Paradise" is Formulaic but Successful Film for the Family 
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Preacher Debbie Laramie (Crystal Bernard) is a committed if somewhat rebellious associate minister in a large Dallas church when her rebellious ways find her in conflict with both the senior pastor and her overseeing district. When she pushes her contemporary ways just a bit too far, she gets re-assigned to a struggling rural church in the small town of Paradise, Texas.

With her son Hayden (Bobby Edner) reluctantly in tow, Preacher Debbie plants herself smack dab in the middle of Paradise Community Church with all its church politics, opinions, unresolved conflicts and egos.

Welcome to Paradise hits home video courtesy of EchoLight Entertainment on December 18th, 2012, and continues EchoLight's growing tradition of presenting faith inspired and socially relevant cinema. While Welcome to Paradise is on the kinder and gentler side of faith inspired cinema, the film is a feel good film that will unquestionably please fans of faith-based cinema.

It's doubtful that Welcome to Paradise is going to convert any non-believing fans, but its messages of faith, perseverance, the power of love and the importance of acceptance offer plenty of chances for Christian moviegoing families to watch a film together while having an important conversation afterwards.

What's most refreshing about Welcome to Paradise is that co-writers William Shockley and Brent Huff have crafted a film that is filled with flawed human beings trying, for the most part, to do the right things along the way while living into their Christianity. It all starts with Crystal Bernard's Preacher Debbie, a gifted pastor with tremendous ideas whose ego truly can get in her way and whose commitment to ministry does at times come at the expense of her son. Bernard, best known to audiences for his long-running role on the television series Wings, does a nice job of conveying a warmth and sincerity that makes Preacher Debbie seem like the kind of pastor whose church you'd want to attend.

The film really kicks up its emotional resonance after we're through with the obligatory establishment of conflicts and expository revelations. When an unexpected tragedy complicates an already complicated situation, Preacher Debbie has to depend on both her supporters and naysayers if this old country church is going to survive.

To be sure, Welcome to Paradise is filled with stock characters whose character traits fit the formula perfectly. That said, sometimes the formula works and it works in Welcome to Paradise. It helps that Bernard is surrounding by a winning supporting cast that brings the film's hopefulness and compassion wondrously to life.

Bobby Edner is terrific as Hayden, Preacher Debbie's seemingly defiant yet ultimately loyal son. William Shockley shines as Kent, while Brad Stine resonates deeply as John Sullivan, whose transformation helps to anchor the film. In addition to Bernard, as well, Welcome to Paradise benefits greatly from the steady presence of Brian Dennehy, whose turn as a local auto dealer is the kind of quietly confident performance we've come to expect from the always dependable Dennehy. The film's most powerful performance comes courtesy of Beth Grant, whose appearance as Frances is both heartbreaking and exhilarating. Grant continues to be one of indie Hollywood's most criminally under-appreciated actresses.

Welcome to Paradise isn't groundbreaking cinema, but it's warm and winning cinema that is sure to please faith-based audiences and those who can appreciate its unabashedly hopeful and embracing messages. For more information on the film, visit its official website at EchoLight Entertainment .

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic