Ticket To Paradise Review: Two Stars Can Only Get You Halfway There

Some people make the impossible look easy. Genuine charm among actors is hard enough to come by, let alone finding two actors who have actual chemistry with each other. But if you have ever seen Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" or its equally excellent sequels, you know that those three films are overburdened with genuinely charming actors who all seem to have chemistry with each other. It's hard not to think of one specific scene from Soderbergh's 2001 remake — in which the hero tries and fails to reconnect with his ex-wife while sharing tartly written barbs — when watching the new romantic comedy "Ticket to Paradise," seeing as the two films feature the same stars. Yes, this light new comedy reunites George Clooney and Julia Roberts, two true movie stars in a high-concept, a low-key comedy set in a beautiful tropical setting. It all seems like it should be so easy, which is what ends up making "Ticket to Paradise" feel like such a letdown. 

Here is an aggressively OK movie, the kind of thing that these days would normally find a home first and only on a streaming service like Netflix or Peacock. Clooney and Roberts play David and Georgia, who were once married and had a daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), but are long since divorced and try to avoid each other whenever possible. But soon after they congratulate Lily on her college graduation, they're mutually horrified to learn their daughter is marrying Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a seaweed farmer she met on the shores of Bali and has only known for a month. They join forces to try and sabotage what they perceive to be a far-too-soon marriage while trying not to dive back into their old habits.

"Ticket to Paradise," in some respects, feels like a breath of fresh air for being a theatrically released film in the year of our Lord 2022 without having any connection to pre-existing intellectual property. While that is arguably an insultingly low bar to clear, it only makes the experience of "Ticket to Paradise" all the more vexing because the whole thing is just so close to being truly enjoyable instead of just OK enough to pass the smell test. Director and co-writer Ol Parker is no stranger to making films leveraging immensely talented actors in their later middle age, having written both of the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" movies and directed "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" in 2018. But even without having to stage any show-stopping sequences from the ABBA songbook or the like, Parker's script and direction only meet his overly talented cast halfway. That this movie is predictable is no surprise — there are not a bevy of twists here you can't imagine from watching the trailer, and the resolution is basically what anyone who's seen any romantic comedy can guess. That the journey to that predictable destination feels so stagnant is the real heartbreak.

A mild return to form

Whatever else is true, it's fitting and welcome to see Clooney and Roberts back on the big screen together. (By sheer coincidence, the last time Clooney was in a theatrically released film was also with Roberts, in the 2016 drama "Money Monster.") They're as able and invested in selling David and Georgia as having a checkered past as possible, though the task for Clooney is a bit harder, as David's grouchiness is something he can only push so far before the character becomes obnoxious. Yet in the duo's many argumentative scenes, as much as you get the sense that they're enjoying sharing the screen again, it's enough to make you wish the dialogue they were spouting was two or three times better. "Ticket to Paradise" does not aim for a lot of big laughs, but the few it succeeds at getting are thanks to supporting players, like Lucas Bravo as Georgia's younger and cartoonishly agreeable French boyfriend. (The one time the film actively tries for a big comic setpiece, wherein David is beset upon by a vicious dolphin, it stumbles painfully.)

Of course, the core relationship at the heart of "Ticket to Paradise" is meant to be that of Lily and Gede, which is — frankly, much like the young lovers in the two "Mamma Mia!" films — both winsome and exceedingly one-dimensional. As much as David and Georgia's intent on sabotage may seem nasty in hindsight, they're not wrong to be so dubious of a relationship that's at the end of its seventh week, and one given only a few short scenes through the surface-level dialogue scenes that Dever and Bouttier have. They're both charming enough (and anyone familiar with Dever through "Booksmart" or "Justified" knows she's a hell of a talent), but as with the elder statesmen in the film, they can only elevate so much of a flat script.

"Ticket to Paradise" looks like it was heavenly to film, in many ways. (Though it's set in Bali, the film was shot in Queensland, Australia.) The setting is gorgeous, and the stakes are so low that it must have felt like close to an extended vacation; if that's just wishful thinking, then it's a credit to the finished film for making this look like an extended vacation. The problem is not that the cast and crew didn't enjoy themselves, but that as easy as the process may have been, it did not result in something sparkling or miraculous or just entertaining enough to forget about the real world for 104 minutes. George Clooney and Julia Roberts remain two of the best, most charismatic movie stars to ever grace the silver screen, and we're fortunate to have cinematic proof of their heat and chemistry. "Ticket to Paradise" just isn't that proof. It's OK. But it should've been better.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10