Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Sarah Harvey and Deborah Balderstone Director: Ol Parker Screenplay: Ol Parker and Daniel Pipski Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Maxime Bouttier, Lucas Bravo, Geneviève Lemon, Cintya Dharmayanti, Agung Pinda, Ilma Nurfauzia, Ifa Barry, Dorian Djoudi, Romy Poulier, Charles Allen, Francis McMahon, Sean Lynch and Arielle Carver-O’Neill Distributor: Universal
Here’s an old-fashioned romantic comedy that’s banking on star power that no longer carries the wattage it once did. But one really can’t blame Julia Roberts and George Clooney for the fact that “Ticket to Paradise” is so godawful. They’re willing to go to extraordinary lengths to pump some life into the material they’re given—one only need point to a sequence in which they go crazy wild after winning a ratcheted-up game of beer-pong to see how far. (Lorne Balfe’s unexceptional score integrates a couple of pop songs to allow them to do some goofy dancing here.) But it’s a hopeless task, given the weak script concocted by Ol Parker (the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies) and newcomer Daniel Pipski and Parker’s direction, which ranges from limp and lackadaisical to desperate and overindulgent.
The premise is remarkably thin. Long-divorced David and Georgia Cotton (Clooney and Roberts) had one child during their five years of marriage—daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), who’s just graduating college. (At least it seems to be college, despite the fact that they keep referring to her as a newly-minted lawyer, which would require a long stint in law school.) Her parents snipe about one another endlessly, and the thought of attending the ceremony together fills them with dread. When they find they’re seated beside one another, they immediately start bickering, which might be amusing if the reciprocal jibes weren’t so lame.
As a post-graduation break Lily and her loopy best friend Wren (Billie Lourd) go off on a trip to Bali, where they find themselves stranded mid-ocean after their tour boat goes off without them. Luckily they’re found by handsome Gede (Maxime Bouttier), who takes them aboard his boat and back to shore. Within a month Lily is engaged to the seaweed-farmer—a prospect that horrifies both David and Georgia, who fear that she’s repeating their mistake by marrying too hastily right after college and ruining her chance for lasting happiness. So they fly to Bali for the traditional wedding ceremony, intending instead to sabotage the nuptials.
Gede is on to what they’re up to as soon as they connive to steal the rings needed for the ceremony, but though supposedly a smart girl Lily remains blithely oblivious until she stumbles on the stolen jewelry late in the game. Along the way there are all sorts of mirthless episodes: David gets attacked by a dolphin during a swim, he and Georgia get competitive while harvesting Gede’s seaweed, and, of course, after getting wasted in that beer-pong episode, they wind up in bed together just as Georgia’s boyfriend Paul (Lucas Bravo) unexpectedly shows up and they have to awkwardly conceal the accidental reawakening of the love they’ve always had. In the end, of course, they give their blessing to the marriage and wind up back in each other’s arms, much to their—but not our—surprise.
Clooney and Roberts are wasted in this claptrap, but they both gamely call up their old tricks—his cocky nod and snide delivery, her broad smile and pinch-nosed glare—but to little avail, since the situations are so dumb and the dialogue so drab. Everyone else, including the Balinese supporting players (many of them fairly amateurish), is overshadowed by their movie-star presence. Dever has one good line—at one moment when she’s acutely embarrassed by her parents, she expresses the wish that an asteroid would fall, a sentiment some viewers might embrace—but is otherwise nondescript, as is Bouttier, who spends most of the film standing around looking either puzzled or vaguely annoyed by his to-be in-laws’ shenanigans. Lourd gets a few opportunities to do the usual best-friend snarkiness bits, and Geneviève Lemon tries to squeeze some chuckles out of a scene on an airplane when she’s sucked into David and George’s warfare (she reappears later on equally infertile comic ground). But the person who unquestionably comes off worst is Bravo, so winning in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” who must attempt a dreadful Inspector Clouseau stumblebum act as the hopelessly hopeful pilot who chooses to propose to Georgia at the worst possible times. His slapstick reaction after a snakebite is truly grotesque, and not a little tasteless.
One can at least take some pleasures in the visuals. The Balinese village setting of Owen Paterson’s production design is utterly unrealistic but good-looking, and Lizzy Gardiner’s local costumes are eye-catching, with everything caught in blazingly sunlit colors by cinematographer Ole Birkeland. Editor Peter Lambert can’t do much about the lumpy, episodic nature of the narrative, but could have sharpened some of the individual sequences; the film runs long, especially since the bloopers and gags in the final credits appear to have amused the actors far more than they do us.
One might mention that though it’s set in Bali, the movie was shot in Australian locations mocked up to look like the island. Financial incentives probably played a role, and the filmmakers try to compensate by reiterating how beautiful Bali is as often as they can, but whatever the reason, the change mirrors the sad reality that this is a poor imitation of fondly-remembered rom-coms past. If you want to have a really good time in Paradise, skip this “Ticket to…” and search out Ernst Lubitsch’s “Trouble in…” instead.