Paradise (PG-13) (87 min.) — Diablo Cody should've written a better script for her directing debut, or at least used her Oscar-winning instincts to not choose this one. Paradise pokes its fun at fundamentalist religion but isn't in the same snarky-lark league as Juno, nor as comically raw as Young Adult. The concept is rich with potential to offend yet after a promising opener Cody doesn't seem interested.
Julianne Hough is perky enough as Lamb Mannerheim, a wide-eyed virgin raised in church by her parents (Nick Offerman and Holly Hunter, left jokeless). We learn in montage that Lamb survived an airplane crash, severely burned and wondering why God would spare her to live scarred and chronically pained. Cody's writing is never again as biting, nor her direction as crisp.
Lamb shocks her church community by rejecting God the only way this immensely naive woman knows how, by going to Sin City itself, Las Vegas. She'll draw up a bucket list of transgressions to be accomplished, most of them innocent enough, like getting drunk and urinating in public. Nothing as funny as Aubrey Plaza's The To-Do List, which is indebted to the writer Cody isn't here.
Lamb's journey is unlikely joined by William, a smarmy British bartender — typecasting for Russell Brand — and a cynical, alcoholic nightclub singer named Loray (Octavia Spencer, a wonderment as usual). Paradise becomes their quest to check off Lamb's temptations list and soak up Vegas, riding the Fremont Street zip line, hitting the clubs and rubbing off on each other. Occasionally an identifiably Cody line pops up, cutting and cauterizing but not nearly often enough. (Regency 20 in Brandon.) C-
Steve Persall, Times movie critic