Love in Paradise (2016)

Luke Perry has been winning hearts for three solid decades, beginning with his role as dreamy high schooler Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills, 90210 and now as dreamy dad of high schooler Fred Andrews in Riverdale. But it wasn’t until I saw him in this western themed Hallmark romance that I finally I feel like I’ve caught up with the times. Perry, who created his character and the story, is not only handsome and charming, as per Hallmark requirements, he’s also really funny. There’s a wry humor to Avery Ford, a city slicker and pretender of sorts who finds himself challenged by a weekend in Montana.

After having starred in the long-running western film series Aim to Please, Avery’s career is in a downturn and he now finds himself peddling canned beans on TV. His manager sends him out for a meet-and-greet at Paradise Ranch in Montana so that he can at least make a quick buck. The last thing Avery wants to do, however, is spend time at a dude ranch since contrary to his gun-slinging, wild west movie persona, he’s a yoga-loving, vegetarian city boy who doesn’t even own a pair of jeans.

This formula might have worked with any one of the network’s many male leads, but Perry attacks his part with such zealousness that the movie’s predictability ends up working in its favor. It’s enjoyable to see how Avery wiggles his way out of his steak dinner or a photo shoot on horseback because the actor does his best to make his character so absurdly cosmopolitan. Grizzled Perry at times looks the part of a cowboy; Avery ends up chopping wood, rounding up horses, and driving a tractor after an accident prolongs his stay. Perry also pulls off with effortless cool, however, the look of someone who definitely falls asleep to ambient whale noises and orders sushi take out on the regular.

In addition, Emmanuelle Vaugier is a welcome change from the usual lineup. Heather Twain, owner of Paradise Ranch, casts a skeptical eye on her new guest and isn’t enchanted by Avery like her famous father, Casey (Tom Butler), or the rest of the townspeople. Never mind she was the one who suggested inviting him in order to generate interest in the failing ranch. She’ll do whatever it takes though to ward off a childhood friend who wants to buy up her place for redevelopment. Vaugier brings a no nonsense persona to the film, kind of like she’s just stepped off the set of a police procedural and hasn’t quite shed the part of the cynical, overworked detective who’s had it up to here with criminals, the justice system, and her prosecutor ex.

This movie is a good deal more lighthearted than that, and its ability to navigate both humor and romance makes it stand out in the Hallmark canon. There are tropes aplenty, but Avery and Heather are real enough, and he’s cheeky enough, to overcome cheap sentimentality.

Released: 2016
Dir: Sean McNamara
Writer: Tippi Dobrofsky, Neal H. Dobrofsky
Cast: Luke Perry, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Tom Butler, Matt Frewer, Ona Grauer, Chad Willett, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2018