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'Reel Paradise' offers laughs in the face of reality

The road to Taveuni, like the road to hell, is paved with good intentions. The new documentary ''Reel Paradise" asks what a family of self-absorbed New York hipoisie will encounter when they move to Fiji to open the world's most remote movie theater. If the answers aren't what they expected, they still provide audiences with appallingly funny viewing pleasure. This is the new schadenfreude: a reality show that blows up in its subjects' faces.

You've probably never heard of him, but John Pierson is one of the stars of the American indie film scene -- a producer's rep on such groundbreaking films as ''She's Gotta Have It" and ''Clerks," the author of ''Spike, Mike, Dykes, and Slackers: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema," and the host of the late-'90s cable show ''Split Screen." On one of that show's episodes he traveled to Taveuni in the Fiji Islands for a segment on the 288-seat 180 Meridian Cinema -- named for the International Dateline that runs through the island -- and was so taken with the place that he moved his wife and two teenagers there for a year. On fire with the white cinephile's burden, Pierson intended to bring great films to the locals for free.

Documentarian Steve James (''Hoop Dreams") brought his cameras in for the final month of the Piersons' stay and he captures an unintentional laugh riot about entitled yuppies landing in a Third World country and expecting it to run on time. John's wife, Janet, spends most of her days at her computer -- ''Isn't paradise doing what you want to do?" she asks, and she has a point until the house is robbed while the family's at the theater and suspicion falls on pretty much everyone in Taveuni. Perhaps ''paradise" and ''paranoia" come from the same root.

Sixteen-year-old daughter Georgia, meanwhile, runs around with a bellyshirt and tells her mother where to stick it while her modestly dressed Fijian girlfriends look on thunderstruck, and sullen 13-year-old Wyatt defends the movie ''Jackass" to his discomfited parents: ''I'm happy there's no story line; if it had a story line it would suck." Ah, youth.

Pierson père -- tall, gangly, eyes glinting with the fervor of a true believer -- sets the tone with his temper tantrums, his inability to run the projector when the local operator gets drunk, his highhanded alienation of the local missionaries, and with the Type-A bullheadedness he barely hides beneath a mellow indie-dude exterior. That said, you become surprisingly fond of this clan by the film's end. They are, after all, the most exotic fauna here.

And it is a joy hearing the peals of laughter come from local audiences as they watch silly Hollywood comedies. Pierson's heart is in the right place, even if you sense that once he's gone, life on Taveuni will continue unchanged. ''Reel Paradise" is an amusingly damning portrait of a man trying to impose his will on a world that, really, has better things to do.

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