This image released by Universal Pictures shows George Clooney, right, and Julia Roberts in "Ticket to Paradise." (Vince Valitutti/Universal Pictures via AP)
It’s often said that the movies that were fun to make never turn out great. Well, George Clooney and Julia Roberts look like they had a grand time making the Bali-set “Ticket to Paradise.”
The film, directed and co-written by Ol Parker (“Mama Mia! Here We Go Again”), isn’t the first movie to star Roberts and Clooney together. But it takes a moment to realize that their screen time together has been mostly limited to some scenes in the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies and Jodie Foster’s not-so-memorable 2016 thriller “Money Monster.”
Given their friendship and natural rapport, you imagine that there must have been half-a-dozen rom-coms in their past. Instead, it’s a reminder that Clooney, so often compared to Cary Grant, has, when dipping into comedy, mostly stuck to an archer, Coen-brothers register. And unlike Grant — whose on-screen romances included the brilliant likes of Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell — Clooney has less frequently found a perfect match. Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air” and Meryl Streep in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” deserve mentioning. But, really, Clooney’s best chemistry was back in 1998’s “Out of Sight” with Jennifer Lopez — a love that bloomed in the dark trunk of a car.
“Ticket to Paradise,” which opens in theaters Thursday, is a more old-fashioned proposition: a movie built strictly — and without apologies — on the charisma of its two stars.
Roberts and Clooney play Georgia and David Cotton, a bitterly divorced set of parents whose daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), is fresh out of law school. Just before she takes a demanding job with a top firm, Lily and her best friend, Wren (Billie Lourd), set off on a trip to Bali. (Here, Australia doubles for the Indonesian island.) Lily immediately falls in love with a local seaweed farmer named Gede (Maxime Bouttier) and they decide to marry within days.
For Georgia and David, such a wedding is a four-alarm fire. They fly out straight away to sabotage it, a scheme that dredges up plenty of their own unresolved issues about divorce. “Nothing’s forever,” David hisses to his son-in-law-to-be. It’s an unholy alliance. They bicker constantly, so much so that it’s clear that their feelings are still strong for one another. I know this probably comes as a shock. Maybe sit down before reading this next sentence. But, yes, the events of “Ticket to Paradise” will bring them closer again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
OK, so Parker’s film, written by him and Daniel Pipski, is not exactly out here to reinvent the wheel. Predictability is part of the appeal of “Ticket to Paradise,” and you can’t say it doesn’t succeed in that. The familiar beats get played with sincerity. A wince-inducing late-night dance floor sequence with House of Pain’s “Jump Around” arrives like a matter of prescribed ritual.
There are other traditions that fill “Ticket to Paradise” as the Cottons wrestle with and inevitably succumb to Balinese culture. But none so much as the customs of the rom-com. For me, “Ticket to Paradise” could have — like a lot of recent entries in the genre — greatly benefitted from a funny person taking a pass on the script. There’s not nearly as much to laugh at here as you might expect, as “Ticket to Paradise” remains mostly content, like a dozing beachgoer, to bask in the glow of its stars. Dever, hysterical in “Booksmart,” is also largely wasted in a bland role.
“Ticket to Paradise” goes down as a footnote to the many superior rom-coms Roberts has sparkled in before. And if I wanted to watch Clooney in a tropical locale, I’d choose Alexander Payne’s lovely “The Descendants.” Or for Clooney in divorcee plot, the Coens’ “Intolerable Cruelty,” with Catherine Zeta-Jones, would be the choice.
But if you just want to see Roberts and Clooney together, “Ticket to Paradise” clears that not-very-high bar with just enough charm. And, lest anyone doubt, the end-credits bloopers — which feel about as scripted as those that follow “Toy Story 2” — prove that everyone making “Ticket to Paradise” did, in fact, have a very good time.
“Ticket to Paradise,” a Universal release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some strong language and brief suggestive material. Running time: 104 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
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