Some folks appear to have it all together. Finding two actors who actually click with one another is difficult enough without adding in genuine charm between them. However, if you've ever seen Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" or its similarly fantastic sequels, you know that all three of those movies are crammed full of genuinely endearing actors who all seem to have connection with one another. When seeing the new romantic comedy "Ticket to Paradise," which stars the same actors as Soderbergh's 2001 version, it's difficult to avoid remembering one particular moment where the hero tries and fails to reunite with his ex-wife while exchanging sharply worded barbs. Yes, George Clooney and Julia Roberts are back again in this lighthearted new comedy. It's a high-concept, low-key comedy with a gorgeous tropical backdrop. It all sounds like it ought to be so simple, which is why "Ticket to Paradise" ends up feeling like such a letdown.
This is a blatantly decent movie, the kind that nowadays would often only be found on a streaming site like Netflix or Peacock. Clooney and Roberts play David and Georgia, who had a daughter named Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) during their previous marriage but have since divorced and strive to stay away from one another whenever possible. However, not long after they congratulate Lily on graduating from college, they discover with equal horror that their daughter is getting married to Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a seaweed farmer she met on the beaches of Bali and has barely known for a month. They band together in an effort to thwart what they see as an impending marriage while attempting to avoid reverting to their former ways.
In some ways, the theatrical release of "Ticket to Paradise" in the year of our Lord 2022 without any connection to pre-existing intellectual property feels like a breath of new air. The experience of "Ticket to Paradise" is made all the more frustrating since it is so near to being actually delightful rather than simply OK enough to pass the smell test, even though that is probably an insultingly low bar to clear. With "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" and the two "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" movies under his belt, director and co-writer Ol Parker is no stranger to using incredibly skilled actors in their later middle years. But even without needing to put on any ABBA songbook or similar show-stopping scenes, Parker's storyline and directing fall short of the skill of his performers. It should come as no surprise that this film has a predictable plot; there aren't many surprises that can't be predicted from seeing the trailer, and the resolution is essentially what anyone who has seen a romantic comedy can anticipate. The true tragedy is how tedious the path leading to that predicted goal feels.
Whatever else may be true, Clooney and Roberts' return to the big screen together is appropriate and pleasant. (By pure coincidence, Clooney and Roberts starred in the drama "Money Monster" from 2016 when it was released in theatres.) They make every effort to portray David and Georgia as having a troubled past, but Clooney's job is made more difficult by the fact that he can only play David's grumpiness so far before the character becomes annoying. Even while you can tell that the two are loving being on film together again in the pair's several arguing scenes, it's enough to make you wish their banter was two or three times better. The few major laughs "Ticket to Paradise" manages to get are courtesy to supporting actors like Lucas Bravo as Georgia's younger and cartoonishly accommodating French boyfriend. (The one time the movie makes a conscious effort for a huge comedy setpiece, when David is attacked by a ferocious dolphin, it horribly stumbles.)
Of course, Lily and Gede's relationship is intended to be the central one in "Ticket to Paradise," and, to be honest, they are both endearing and incredibly one-dimensional, similar to the youthful lovers in the two "Mamma Mia!" movies. Even though David and Georgia's intention to cause trouble may appear nefarious in retrospect, it is reasonable for them to be wary of a relationship that is approaching the end of its seventh week and has received only a few brief scenes through the surface-level dialogue scenes that Dever and Bouttier have. They're both endearing enough, and Dever is a serious talent (as anyone who has seen "Booksmart" or "Justified" knows), but like the senior statesmen in the movie, they can only do so much to lift a dull narrative.
In many aspects, the filming of "Ticket to Paradise" seemed to have been pure paradise. (The movie was filmed in Queensland, Australia even though it takes place in Bali.) If it's simply wishful thinking, then it's a compliment to the finished film for making this look like an extended holiday. The backdrop is magnificent, and the stakes are so low that it must have felt like almost an extended vacation. The issue is not that the cast and crew didn't have fun; rather, it is that, despite how simple the process may have been, it did not produce something brilliant, amazing, or even just amusing enough to let one forget about the outside world for 104 minutes. We're fortunate to have visual evidence of George Clooney and Julia Roberts' heat and chemistry since they continue to be two of the best, most magnetic movie performers to ever grace the silver screen. That proof isn't provided by "Ticket to Paradise." It's OK. But it ought to have been superior.