By Leah Rozen
August 23, 1999 12:00 PM

Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Pullman

Upon graduating from high school, two teenage girls (Danes and Beckinsale) head off to Bangkok for a couple of weeks of fun and sun. But this is no Betty and Veronica Go to Thailand. When Thai officials discover heroin in one of their knapsacks—the girls claim not to know it was there—the teens land in a squalid local prison with little hope for release.

Brokedown Palace, directed by Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused and Bad Girls), is a gritty, often compelling drama about growing up under duress. Although it contains the obligatory ingredients (crawling bugs, bad food, thuggish guards and a corrupt justice system) of American-in-a-stinking-foreign-jail movies like 1978’s Midnight Express and 1998’s Return to Paradise, Palace puts as much emphasis on character development as it does on vile living conditions. And Brokedown Palace adds dramatic texture by maintaining ambiguity about Danes’s innocence or guilt.

Danes, recovering nicely from the bore that was Mod Squad, deftly portrays the feistier of the friends, while Beckinsale (The Last Days of Disco) is affecting as the one fast going under. Pullman slouches skillfully through his role as a cynical American attorney who aids the two. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Girls just wanna get out