Ticket to Paradise features George Clooney and Julia Roberts as divorced parents determined to stop history from repeating itself

Is the old-school Hollywood movie star making a comeback?

This year we have seen Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum and Brad Pitt drive modest, non-franchised star vehicles to unlikely box office success, their presence endearing otherwise mediocre films to audiences presumably yearning for a return to adult films in the era of Disney-Marvel dominance.

And then there’s Tom Cruise, whose fame – though attached to the shiny fuselage of a legacy franchise – continues to defy Hollywood’s laws of career gravity.

The thesis gets its biggest test this week with the return of two of the brightest luminaries of the 90s, as George Clooney and Julia Roberts reunite for a rom-com that wants to rekindle some of their old magic.

Ticket to Paradise has its eyes set on appealing to an undemanding audience that has aged with its tracks, a crowd that just seems gagged for a joke about Clooney wearing yoga pants after sex (not that there’s real eroticism; Doris Day and Rock Hudson were sexier 70 years ago).

Clooney joked to ABC News Breakfast, “The young actors were literally appalled. And also, you know, we don’t drink but we look really hammered.”(Supplied: Universal)

If you have seen the traileryou probably already know if you’re on board.

Stadium-wide smiles and silver charm intact, Roberts and Clooney play Georgia and David, a pair of successful professionals leading defiantly separate lives.

They were married for five years, but that was 25 years ago. Now they can’t stand each other, a fact that the script – from first-time screenwriter Daniel Pipski – tries to repetitively reinforce, though the actors feel more like two office buddies having fun l each other than a divorced couple hosting a life. of deep resentment.

Their only child, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever of Booksmart), has just graduated from college and is flying to Bali, where she falls – as one does – for a dreamy seaweed farmer, a young Balinese named Gede (played by the dreamer, non-algoculturist Maxime Bouttier).

A young white woman with brown hair wears a wedding dress and shakes hands with a young Indonesian man in a white tunic and headscarf.
Although the film is set in Bali, it was shot primarily in Queensland on Moreton Island and various locations in the Whitsundays.(Supplied: Universal)

The kids plan a whirlwind wedding, prompting David and Georgia – who now has a much younger boyfriend (Emily in handsome but dull Lucas Bravo in Paris) – to bury the hatchet and fly to Bali to sabotage the wedding . They clearly don’t want Lily to make the same mistake they did.

That’s about the extent of the emotional plot in Ticket to Paradise, an amiable but tepid romantic comedy that knows where it wants to go but has all the sparkle of a film crafted with a screenwriting software model. .

British filmmaker Ol Parker, who directed Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, must have seemed like an easy choice for a mild-mannered film about bickering families on a resort island, and of course it understands the mission – plenty of helicopter shots approaching shores touristy, over-enlightened television staging and limply-executed comedic beats that struggle to top an already flat script.

A middle-aged woman with strawberry blonde hair wears sunglasses and looks at a young white woman with brown hair near palm trees
Roberts described his work on romantic comedies to IndieWire: “You always think in terms of creating fun. It is a pleasure to play in this sandbox. It has been a long time.”(Supplied: Universal)

The choice to set the story in Bali – although the production was actually filmed in Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands – is curious, as if the filmmakers were hoping their aging stars might appear in a generic tropical setting, their indifferent retro stardom to anything resembling contemporary reality. .

Granted, neither Roberts nor Clooney are about to be threatened by Kaitlyn Dever, whose talent is wasted on a poorly crafted character without much personality or charm. One wonders why Gede falls for her – his only noticeable character trait is that she’s an aspiring lawyer – but then again, the laid-back French-Indonesian actor is rarely called upon to do anything other than have look sexy. (Something he admittedly does very well.)

Much like Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s adventure in The Lost City, there’s a vague sense of exoticism to the whole affair, with the locals mostly relegated to comedic support, and a few borderline racist gags on non-English languages. difficult to understand and old customs. be weird, or something like that. (Thanks to Agung Pindha as Gede’s father, Wayan lands some of the biggest laughs with some of the film’s most sketchy elements).

The film’s escapades – parents stealing wedding rings, CGI dolphins snapping at Clooney’s crotch, a temple of curse – unfold with all the efficiency of a hard-hitting trailer that’s left to drag in slow motion, while the thawing relationship between the protagonists is strictly by the numbers, which wouldn’t be a problem had there been a hint of on-screen chemistry.

But as charming as they are, Clooney and Roberts can’t do much with a script that offers lines like “My hangover has a hangover,” or salvage a movie that doesn’t know how to get tangled up. with their star characters in an interesting way.

Five young women walk on a sunny beach as a wedding procession;  the bride leads with brown hair and a white shoulderless dress
“We decided it was such a sunny, appealing movie in a really dark, difficult time for people,” Roberts told ABC News Breakfast.(Supplied: Universal)

Clooney has cultivated a more contemplative dramatic presence in his recent work, but he feels rusty in the beats of comedic banter here, his smugness on full display minus the charm.

Roberts, meanwhile – whose sparkling rapport with her co-star was a highlight of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean films – seems more fragile than dynamic.

They’re both freewheeling – nice for a while, until you start wanting more… (The one exception, a drunken dance around a game of beer pong, is quite entertaining, according to this you feel hearing moldy 90s pop hits on wheels released for the 6 billionth time.)

It’s really only Billie Lourd, playing Lily’s college BFF Wren, who manages to break through the stilted writing with the force of her unruly screen presence – of course, it’s little more than that. than a line reading here or a gesture there, but that’s enough to suggest she inherited from her mother rom-com scene stealing powers.

In one scene, Wren – so far unlucky to find her own man on the island – approaches David at a late-night bar, and for a moment it looks like there’s going to be some weird flirting and narrative.

It’s just the kind of thorny thread that Nancy Meyers could have played with, but here it remains unexplored. (I don’t think there was a scene in that movie where I didn’t think, “I wish Nancy Meyers would direct that.”)

A middle-aged white man with gray hair wears a blue shirt behind a red-haired woman, sunglasses, a scarf and a suit on a beach.
Roberts and Clooney were quarantined together on Hamilton Island while filming the movie.(Supplied: Universal)

Aging anxieties and emotional regrets are all there on screen, but they’re so wrapped up that the performers seem to go through the motions – a shame, when you consider the rich screen history that Clooney and Roberts have, and how a more curious filmmaker might have played with their iconography.

“Maybe I’m too old to feel young,” Georgia says at the end of the film, one of the few — quietest and most thoughtful — moments that registers, allowing Roberts to relax away. forced comedy. (And where Cher was supposed to arrive by helicopter to give her a quick rebuttal.)

Instead of doubling down on those quirks, Ticket to Paradise serves up a final freeze-frame moment straight out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – surely one of the weirdest endings for any in-between rom-com meant to be enjoyed on your in flight the screen in the neighbor’s seat with the sound muted.

It’s an involuntary moment of such existential terror that you’d swear Jean-Luc Godard, in a final act of playful subversiveness, had blocked the digital file to leave us with a lasting image of the end of cinema.

Ticket to Paradise is in theaters now.

Herman C. Harkins