Think of “Ticket to Paradise” like a postcard of beautiful people having fun in a beautiful place and you’ll get along just fine. Giving it much more thought than that won’t help this rom-com vehicle for George Clooney and Julia Roberts, although the “com” part proves a trifle deficient in a movie that’s significantly better when it’s sweet than salty.
The salty comes early and often, predicated on the fact that Clooney and Roberts’ David and Georgia were married for five years (that, he says, felt like 19), coming back together after their not-so-amicable parting only for shared events that involve their daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever, making the most, as usual, of very little here).
Having just graduated law school, Lily has taken off to Bali on a blow-off-steam vacation with her pal/roommate (Billie Lourd) before starting a job at a big prestigious firm, only to derail those plans when she falls head over heels for a local seaweed farmer (Maxime Bouttier), getting engaged after a matter of weeks.
The idea that their kid is impulsively throwing away her future sets David and Georgia on a shared mission to stop her under the guise of attending the wedding, though their partnership is characterized by plenty of (mostly uninspired) bickering and squabbling.
“We have to call a truce to make this work,” Georgia says.
Directed and co-written by Ol Parker (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”), “Ticket to Paradise” fares better in the inevitable softer moments, allowing the leads to mug less and feel more. Indeed, the laughs mostly come from peripheral players, foremost among them Lucas Bravo as Georgia’s overly attentive boyfriend Paul, an airline pilot who engineers a way to tag along.
As for that postcard reference, the film was primarily shot in Australia due to Covid restrictions, incorporating footage from some Balinese locations, and it all looks lovely; still, any benefits to tourism might be balanced by the various hurdles the principals encounter involving the local flora and fauna, which occasionally spill into the ridiculous.
While the movie’s exact narrative destination isn’t entirely clear, it follows enough of a formula that those scenes feel too conspicuously designed to stretch out the narrative before crossing the finish line.
“Ticket to Paradise” does tend to shine when Clooney and Roberts soften their rough edges or let their hair down, as they do during a game of drunken mystery-alcohol (not beer) pong. The closing outtakes show off a playfulness that the film itself exhibits only sporadically.
As a multifaceted filmmaker as well as a star, Clooney has been adept at throwing the studios intermittent projects with overt commercial aspirations, and by teaming up with Roberts (who also appeared with him in the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies), this certainly falls squarely in that basket.
That said, given the state of the romantic comedy and the rise of streaming as a preferred venue for non-blockbusters, “Ticket to Paradise” might not sell as many tickets as hoped. Assuming they pack the right attitude, though, those who do pay the toll should mostly enjoy the ride.
“Ticket to Paradise” premieres in US theaters on October 21. It’s rated PG-13.