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'Ticket to Paradise'

Julia Roberts and George Clooney are let down by dull plot

George Clooney and Julia Roberts, perhaps waiting for something funny to happen in 'Ticket to Paradise.' Photo credit: Universal Pictures Australia

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We're only about 20 minutes into the half-baked, ultra-lightweight, almost instantly forgettable rom-com Ticket to Paradise when our hearts start to sink, as we realize this big-screen reteaming of Julia Roberts and George Clooney is quite likely going to be sideswiped and eventually sunk by a leaden screenplay that doesn't come close to maximizing their massive respective star power. 

Alas, those suspicions are confirmed. Despite the delight we feel in seeing Clooney and Roberts together again (in addition to the first two Oceans movies, they were both in Clooney's directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and they shared the screen in 2016's Money Monster), they're saddled with playing shallow, puerile, narcissistic characters who behave like they're scheming idiots in a mediocre 1970s TV show. My guess is director/co-writer Ol Parker was going for a 21st-century take on classic screwball comedies such as The Philadelphia Story and The Awful Truth, but the paper-thin plot of Ticket to Paradise is more like a segment of The Love Boat or Love, American Style, stretched into a feature-length film and filled with creaky one-liners and low-level physical shtick that almost cries out for a laugh track. 

This film actually gets a little better in its final act, but by then it's too little, too late. What a wasted opportunity. 

Clooney's David and Roberts' Georgia were married 25 years ago, had a daughter named Lily (Kaitlyn Dever, from Booksmart), split up after five tumultuous years - and never stopped bickering like children in a sandbox, as we see in an early scene where they make spectacles of themselves during Lily's law school commencement ceremony. (David and Georgia being seated next to each other at the graduation despite their requests to be as far away from one another as possible is just the first of many "unhappy coincidences" that occur because the screenplay jams in such situations.) 

The arguments between David and Georgia are usually along the lines of "I was right, and you were wrong" or "You were wrong, and I was right, as usual." It rarely gets much deeper or funnier than that. 

Before Lily starts her job at a prestigious law firm, she and her Obligatory Wisecracking BFF, Wren (Billie Lourd), jet off to Bali for an extended vacation, where Lily has an almost instant Meet Cute in the water with the handsome and kindly and charming local seaweed farmer, Gede (Maxime Bouttier). Cut to two months later, with Lily still in Bali (hey, Mom and Dad apparently did VERY well in their respective careers) and now shocking her parents with an email telling them she's getting married in a few days, and they're both invited! 

On the flight to Bali, David and Georgia make a pact: They'll set aside their mutual loathing and pretend to be united in their approval of Lily's marriage - but they'll secretly work to sabotage the union by any means necessary. Oh, and the pilot of the plane is Georgia's younger, sweet and not particularly bright boyfriend, Paul (Lucas Bravo), who absolutely worships Georgia to the point where it's clear she's more annoyed than smitten by this guy. How's that for a wacky subplot? 

Once we arrive (with Australia filling in for Bali due to COVID restrictions and tax breaks), David and Georgia go about their diabolical plan, which at one point entails embarrassing a very young child and making her cry, and how's that for comedic entertainment? 

Even though Gede lives in a beautiful, fairy-tale house at the very edge of the water, is quite successful at the whole seaweed farming thing, comes from an expansive, welcoming and wonderful family and clearly loves Lily (who clearly loves him), David and Georgia continue to behave like wealthy, entitled, privileged Americans who clomp around the island trying to ruin the engagement, all because they don't want Lily to make the same mistake they made a quarter-century ago. How about not making it all about yourselves, Mom and Dad? 

With not much more plot than that to go around, Ticket to Paradise resorts to a number of cheap gags, including the old hotel-room switcheroo routine; a beer pong sequence complete with embarrassing Parental Dancing to songs such as "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now") and "Jump Around," and not one but two instances of characters being bitten - first by a dolphin, then a snake. Come on. That's not even trying. 

Still, there are some shining moments, with Clooney and Roberts reminding us that they're not just stars, they're fine actors. Every once in a while, we get a glimmer of a better, smarter, more involving movie, as David and Georgia drop the shrill arguing and take a moment to actually listen to one another and bond over the one thing they've always agreed upon: They have a spectacular daughter who somehow represents the best of each of them. If only Ticket to Paradise featured more real dialogue and fewer instances of beer pong and dolphin attacks.

Ticket to Paradise

Two and a half stars

STARS: Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Kaitlyn Dever


RATED: PG-13 for some strong language and brief suggestive material

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