Movie Review: House Flippers meet their Squatter match in Malibu’s “Paradise Cove”

There aren’t many tropes I despise more than the “babbling finale,” thrillers with villains who summarize their many crimes and maybe their motives as well in that final, drawn-out and usually murderous confrontation.

“Paradise Cove” isn’t wholly ruined by such a coda. It’s gone a bit wrong here and there just getting to that dramatic climax. But a botched ending tips it into “not really recommended” territory.

Mena Suvari and Todd Grinnell (TV’s “One Day at a Time”) roll into Malibu with everything they own in a contractor’s pick-up truck. Tracey and Jack are house flippers from Detroit, and there’s this beachside house his mom left him.

She’s just died. And just finding a place to park the urn with her ashes is a problem. Mom hoarded, let every single thing in the house break and fail and apparently had a fire at some point as well. It’s a standing, fixable ruin.

He says “We’re fixing up ourselves,” but that’s only in the sense of too many house-flipping TV shows. He’s only good for demolition, she’s the “designer.” They hire locals for a “non-permitted” renovation. Because this flip, with its “six million dollar view,” could make them.

They’re also trying to get pregnant, with fertility shots and pricey treatment on their plate. As things start to go wrong, Jack underscores the obvious.

“We just can’t afford to have anything else go wrong.”

And there’s this one “thing” that not only goes wrong, she makes other things go wrong. She’s a former owner, homeless and squatting under the house. And Bree (Kristin Bauer van Straten of “True Blood”) is pretty obviously bent on their destruction.

Like John Schlesinger’s nightmare tenant (Michael Keaton) thriller “Pacific Heights,” “Paradise Cove” is a property-owners’-worst-nightmare tale hanging on California’s bend-over-backwards tenant, squatter and homeless laws.

Bree has “been here forever,” and “will be here long after you’re gone” law enforcement informs them. The cops won’t do anything before construction starts. And once the “non-permitted” work begins, contractor Griff (Eddie Goines) advises against further police involvement.

Joan (Krista Allen), the double-entendre dropping wine shop owner who gives them a “Welcome to the neighborhood” bottle when she finds out which house they’ve moved into, just wants to know “Have you met Bree?” Griff is more direct.

“There’s crazy, MALIBU crazy. And then there’s Bree!”

Bauer van Stratten plays the ex-model turned-homeless nut to the hilt. Fiftyish, with the muscle memory to play up her lingering sex appeal, Bree creates instant problems in the marriage and has mood changes that alarm us and Tracey from the start. Jack? He’ll take some convincing.

This script pretty much diagrams who we’re expected to fear for, and Bree never disappoints even as she crosses “that line” too early for there to be any mystery about her potential. She isn’t cunning, but she knows the house, the beach and surroundings intimately, and has some notion of what she can get away with.

Suvari does well by the testy wife running out of patience over pregnancy, the “gamble” this renovation is and her husband’s inability to solve this seemingly insoluble problem sleeping in the crawl space below, drinking and smoking and listening to their most intimate moments and their plans.

Logic goes out the window at one or two early points, and especially in the slow stomp toward a climax.

We hear a few stats about greater LA’s homeless problem, and we hear a lot more about Bree and what put her here as the film unfolds, especially in that babbling finale.

But like homelessness itself, “Paradise Cove” has problems we, and the folks who made this, can’t talk our way out of.

Cast: Mena Suvari, Todd Grinnell,  Kristin Bauer van Straten, Eddie Goines

Credits: Directed by  Martin Guigui, script by Sherry Klein. A Quiver release.

Running time: 1:39

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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