“Ticket to Paradise,” director Ol Parker’s Bali-set romantic comedy, closes with a good old-fashioned blooper reel playing over the end credits. In the footage, stars Julia Roberts and George Clooney goof off, riff off each other, laugh hysterically, and just seem to overall be having a great time in each other’s company. The pair, who have previously worked together in such films as the “Ocean’s” series and 2016’s “Money Monster,” are entrancing, and one need only look at the extras surrounding them in their scenes for evidence of that. In a scene from their characters’ daughter’s graduation ceremony, the folks sitting behind the couple beam at them as they try out different lines, Clooney occasionally turning around and addressing them directly. Roberts and Clooney are mega stars with mega chemistry, and it’s hard to take your eyes off them.
Unfortunately, the film preceding this blooper reel does less of a good job showcasing said chemistry. In “Ticket to Paradise,” Roberts and Clooney play Georgia and David, a divorced couple who despise each other. In fact, when we first meet them, they are separately recounting the way they met their former spouse, speaking to colleagues of them with nothing short of derision. But they share a daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), who is graduating college and preparing to become a lawyer, so they are forced into proximity for the ceremony and to see her and her less level-headed best friend Wren (Billie Lourd, who steals the show with a performance that marries genuine love and support for Lily with a party girl persona) off on a summer trip to Bali. Georgia and David part ways at the airport, but just over a month later, they receive a startling email: Lily has met and fallen in love with a local seaweed farmer, Gede (Maxime Bouttier), they are getting married, and she is giving up her promising law career she’s been working toward her whole life to stay with him and Bali. Afraid that Lily is about to make the same mistake they did, Georgia and David travel to Bali for the wedding and collude each with other to try to break it up before it even begins.
Predictably, “Ticket to Paradise” leads toward some sort of rekindling of the spark between Georgia and David that initially attracted them to each other all those years ago, but that is far from the issue that prevents the movie from working. Rather, it’s how they get to that point. The film spends the bulk of its time focusing on how much they hate each other, the pair unable to get through even the most mundane encounter without spitting barbs at each other. Most of these exchanges, while intermittently amusing thanks to the actors delivering the lines, hold little emotional weight. When they do get to be playful and happy, they’re great, but there aren’t enough of those moments to make any sort of potential future for the two seem conceivable. And their gross manipulation of their own daughter’s relationship with her fiancé doesn’t make us want to see them together any more. Their characters are barely fleshed out beyond their regret over their past and their desire to break up Lily’s marriage, with the exception of Georgia, who is in a relationship with a much younger, overly devoted French pilot (Lucas Bravo) and wondering if she could have an actual happy future with him. There are plenty of scenes devoted to Lily and Gede as well, but their relationship, while sweet, is almost as shallow.
The sparkling waters and lush tropical greenery of “Bali” (the movie was actually filmed in Australia) are dazzling to look at and serve as a dreamy backdrop for what ought to be a dreamy pair of love stories, but that isn’t enough to salvage “Ticket to Paradise,” which plays as if everyone involved in making it assumed that once they had Roberts and Clooney on board the rest of the movie would work itself out. Star power can go a long way, especially these days, but they still need something substantial to work with. Even Roberts’ wardrobe in the film in an abomination—how can you send one of the most beautiful women in the world and the queen of the rom-com to Bali and dress her almost exclusively in varying shades of the same utilitarian jumpsuit? With little that’s nice to look at or listen to, “Ticket to Paradise” just barely coasts to its conclusion on Roberts and Clooney’s charisma alone. I’m all for seeing studios investing in more mid-budget movies with big stars for theatrical release, especially when it comes to the romantic comedy genre, but “Ticket to Paradise” doesn’t make any big swings toward either romance or comedy, despite its earnest message about not waiting to do what makes you happy. When the blooper reel for the movie shows off its stars better than the movie, that’s a surefire sign that the material they were given is lacking.
“Ticket to Paradise” is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated PG-13.