Susan Granger’s review of “BROKEDOWN PALACE” (20th Century-Fox)

Jonathan Kaplan’s cautionary tale explores the same territory as “Midnight Express” (1978) and “Return to Paradise” (1998), as Americans suspected of drug smuggling wind up in a Third World prison. Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale stars as Ohio teens who tell their parents they’re off to Hawaii when they trek to Bangkok for an 11-day getaway to celebrate their high school graduation. After seeing the usual sights, they sneak into a posh hotel where they pretend to be guests enjoying the swimming pool. But when they invent a room number to sign a bar check, their ruse is discovered. A charming young Australian (Daniel LaPaine) comes to their rescue, paying court to them both. When he invites them to join him in Hong Kong for the weekend, they accept the plane tickets. But when they get to the airport, they’re arrested by armed police who find heroin in their luggage. Thai justice moves quickly, so they’re convicted and sent to a dark, dank, filthy prison to serve 33-year sentences. No one really cares if the Australian may have planted the drugs in their luggage – they’re still guilty of carrying them. And the Thai penal system is riddled with corruption. The girls’ only hope is a mercenary expatriate American lawyer, “Yankee Hank” (Bill Pullman). Writers David Arata and Adam Fields and director Jonathan Kaplan weave a cynical tale and elicit strong performances, particularly from Claire Danes. But it’s curiously similar to a story printed in “Marie Claire” last year about two young women serving sentences on drug-smuggling charges in a Peruvian prison, even to the detail of having cockroaches crawl into the girls’ ears. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Brokedown Palace” is a depressing, disturbing 4. It’s a grim reminder about the danger of gullibility.