Unless you want to feel dull and laughless over the holidays, beware the latest outbreak of Chevy Chase Syndrome.

Trapped in Paradise purports to be a comedy about three small-time, big-city crooks stuck in a cutesy-poo hick town at Christmastime. But there's never been much funny in the spectacle of assorted Saturday Night Live skitmeisters floundering on the big screen for two hours.

Instead of working at character, Jon Lovitz relies on his old pathological-liar shtick, Dana Carvey trots out his line of goofy facial tics, and they both drag poor Nicolas Cage down with them into the depths. Writer/director George Gallo would have us believe that the three principals are brothers, but that's as unconvincing as everything else, including the addition of Florence Stanley as the Firpo brothers' feisty, hard-cursing mother.

Meanwhile, how's this for creaky plot? Crooks rob bank. Gentle-hearted townsfolk warm cockles of crooks' hearts. Crooks give money back. It's sappy enough to have you rooting for mean old Potter the next time It's a Wonderful Life pops up on the tube.

Lovitz simply doesn't belong in movies--he's a sketch artist at best. And Carvey, who should confine himself to playing Garth, doesn't even get to do his mimicry here. Instead, he's cast as a half-witted kleptomaniac who keeps silently piling trinkets, ballpoint pens and candy bars into the huge pockets of his booster's coat, then silently piling everything out again. Sound familiar? At least the man's got the good sense to steal riffs from a master like Harpo.

But these are not the Marx Brothers, and this is no bowl of Duck Soup. By the time you stagger on to the schmaltzy finale, which involves a horse, and snow, and a generous bank president, and a kindly priest, and a pretty young thing, you may feel like going right out and robbing a bank yourself. And then shooting everyone. For a real dose of Christmas cheer, better to shop elsewhere.


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