1986’s comedy “Club Paradise” had all the fixings to join the ranks of the many great 80’s comedies. With delays, production and script problems, casting changes and becoming a failure at the box office. “Club Paradise” had become one of the biggest forgotten comedies of the golden age of comedies.
Directed and co-written by actor Harold Ramis and co-written by Brian Doyle Murray. Starring comedic legend Robin Williams, Oscar winner Peter O’ Toole and Grammy winner Jimmy Cliff. “Club Paradise” also saw Ramis and Murray reunite with most of their “SCTV” co-stars and cast members: Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke.
Writer David Standish, received a story credit on “Club Paradise”, after a miserable Club Med vacation he experienced with his friend Chris Miller in 1979. It became the genesis for his screenplay titled, “Club Sandwich”. Standish and Miller moved forward with their idea. After a year of rewrites, studio executives were underwhelmed with their screenplay that was filled with eclectic characters. The writers soldiered on until fall 1980, submitting a second draft. Studio executives decided the script lacked the necessary realism, and hired a new team of writers to work on two additional drafts. Later the number expanded to six writers, producing six drafts in six years.
In March 1985, Ramis sent Standish and Miller copies of the final screenplay. An enclosed note invited Standish to visit the films set on location in Jamaica. Standish claimed the invitation was, in part because of his association with Ramis. They shared an office together, when they were both “Party Jokes” editors on staff at Playboy magazine.
Still being called, “Club Sandwich”. The comedy was originally intended to star Bill Murray and John Cleese while being directed by John Landis (“The Blues Brothers”, “Animal House”). Murray had decided to take a six-month hiatus from film after his work in “Ghostbusters” and “Razor’s Edge” (both released in 1984), and dropped out of the project.
Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole (his performance earned him a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actor) were hired to replace Murray and Cleese, while Landis was replaced by Harold Ramis. The picture was then retitled, “Island Jack”. During the new cast and crew changes, Harry Shearer (writer & voice actor on “The Simpsons”) was asked to do a rewrite with Tom Leopold (“Seinfeld”, “Cheers”). Shearer did the rewrite under the pseudonym “Ed Roboto”. Within his rewrite, only two words of what they wrote ended up in the film…”Club Paradise” (the title). Shearer was “so appalled by the movie” that he removed his name from the credits.
The plot of “Club Paradise” was simple. Robin Williams played Jack Moniker, a Chicago firefighter who is injured on the job and retires to the fictional St. Nicholas with his disability settlement. There he befriends a reggae musician and beach resort owner (played by Jimmy Cliff) who is struggling to keep up with his bills. Jack decides to invest in his friend’s resort and make a go of it, all to the dismay of the island’s corrupt government, which wants to sell out to a big developer.
The film’s budget was set at $19 million and the production spent ten weeks on location in Jamaica before completing principal photography at The Burbank Studios in Los Angeles. Ramis had shot the films opening title sequence over four days at the Burbank studio. While in Jamaica, an ample warehouse in Port Antonio was converted into “a carpentry shop” that was used to build the beach resort seen in the film. Jamaica which is a part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, had the production crewed in Jamaica by a British crew. Hiring a British crew and not an American one would cost less for the production as the Brits were cheaper to hire.
“Club Paradise” was a box office failure. Grossing only $12 million against it’s $15 million budget. The comedy had to battle the likes of “Big Trouble in Little China”, “The Great Mouse Detective”, “Psycho III” and “Under the Cherry Moon” at the box office. Ramis later said “We thought ‘Club Paradise’ had a good chance at the box office. But we were the fourth Caribbean comedy out that year and none of them did any business. The casting ended up being diametrically opposed to what was intended. It was intended for Bill Murray and John Cleese, with Bill as the laid-back guy and Cleese as the over-the-top guy, and we ended up with Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole, with O’Toole as the laid-back guy and Robin the over-the-top guy. The polarities shifted, and it was probably not as interesting or as solid as it might have been if Bill and Cleese were there”.
As if the situation couldn’t worsen any more, actor Adolph Caesar died of a heart attack months before the film’s release. He played the role of Prime Minister Solomon Gundy and it was his last official completed role. As Robin Williams co-star was singer and musician Jimmy Cliff both acts and performs seven songs for the film which are featured on the movie’s soundtrack and include the title theme “Club Paradise”.
The film’s soundtrack was released by Columbia Records and includes the seven tracks by Jimmy Cliff, Elvis Costello, Mighty Sparrow and Blue Riddim Band, some of which are unique to this release. One of Jimmy Cliff’s tracks “The Lion Awakes” was included only in the vinyl release and is noticeably absent from compact disc, digital formats and was not released in any other format.
“Club Paradise” is one of the long-lost 80s comedies that was cheesy but all too funny. There are comedies today that are genuinely funny, but then there are those that seem way too formulaic and lack the kind of passion that was developed in the 80’s, during the height of comedies. Robin Williams managed to be both understated and so over the top that you had no idea what was coming up next. We all knew that when he was on that he was funny and when he was calm then it meant attention was needed, as the story was being told.
Together with an iconic cast and director, he managed to create a movie that was both rich in comedy as well as in story. But it was unfortunately competing for a spot at the box office with movies that were a lot flashier and had bigger name stars that were trying to get the same kind of attention. When you look back at any decade you’ll see a lot of movies that didn’t get the attention their directors or their cast wanted and if you revisited “Club Paradise”, then you’ll see that it was a film that actually deserved the attention.