Romantic comedies have never gone away, but mainstream examples with A-list stars have been pretty thin on the ground since the glory days of the ’90s and early 2000s, when “Pretty Woman,” “Notting Hill,” “Love Actually” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” ruled at the box office. Bucking the trend is “Ticket to Paradise,” a glossy piece of fluff starring Hollywood royalty Julia Roberts and George Clooney as a divorced couple whose passion reignites in Bali during their hare-brained attempt to prevent their daughter from marrying a guy she’s only just met. While far from a classic of its kind, this is likely to be just the “Ticket” for general viewers relishing the chance to watch Roberts and Clooney trade poisonous barbs, before being struck by Cupid’s arrow all over again.
Opening in much of Europe, South America and Australia long before its North American release on October 21, “Ticket” is the kind of lightweight entertainment that nowadays would frequently bypass cinemas and go straight to streaming platforms. With its powerhouse central duo radiating charm even when the direction lacks panache and the dialogue isn’t that funny, this ultra-formulaic concoction should still attract large crowds to its theatrical run. Looking and sounding like it could have been made 20 or 30 years ago, “Ticket” may not contain that much sparkling and sophisticated wit — or indeed many big belly laughs — but delivers sufficient smiles and chuckles to register as an easily enjoyable if unmemorable diversion for audiences seeking simple escapist entertainment.
Taking a basic cue from the “Philadelphia Story” school of comedies about divorced couples giving it another shot, director Ol Parker (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” writer of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) and co-writer Daniel Pipski position David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts) as a husband and wife that had it all for five brief years. That was before the lakeside house David built for them burnt to the ground and their happiness went up in smoke with it.
Twenty years later they’ve settled into a comfortable routine of swapping insults when called to attend milestone events in the life of daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever). Looking forward to even less contact after grimacing through Lily’s college graduation, the exes are thrown back together six weeks later when Lily announces she’s about to marry Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a handsome local seaweed farmer she met while holidaying in Bali with her BFF Wren (Billie Lourd).
Complicating matters is the unexpected arrival of Georgia’s younger boyfriend, Paul (a thankless role for “Emily in Paris” star Lucas Bravo), an airline pilot. An awkward type who practically worships Georgia, the handsome flyboy unsurprisingly proposes marriage just when the plot demands another distraction to keep David and Georgia apart until romcom convention determines they’re ready to start looking at each other with new and besotted eyes.
There’s plenty of zingy repartee in early sequences showing the cantankerous divorcees declaring a truce in order to prevent Lily making what they’re certain will be a huge mistake. Naturally that’s before they’ve even met the hubby-in-waiting, but that’s beside the point and nothing less than sabotaging the nuptials will suffice in such an emergency.
Central to the appeal of romcoms is the fact that everyone can guess the ending. Their success depends on the timing and execution of funny quips and situations en route to familiar and comforting affirmations of love and romance. After getting off to a promising start, “Ticket to Paradise” never exactly nosedives — that would be just about impossible with Clooney and Roberts in the frame — but often struggles to make the most of a setup that seems ripe for the comic misunderstandings, zany shenanigans and crossed wires that underpin this genre.
Whether David and Georgia are enacting their pretty dumb plans to steal the wedding rings and sow doubt in Gede’s mind, or engineering travel and transport mishaps that will throw arrangements into chaos, the film moves along well enough but rarely hits comic high notes or gathers the momentum to sweep audiences up in the mayhem. Georgia’s unfortunate encounter with a dolphin, or a hotel room switcheroo after Paul’s sudden arrival, are further examples of moments that could have been fashioned into laugh riots but end up as gently amusing instead.
When Parker gets his groove on, the picture rocks, such as the sequence in which Clooney and Roberts bust so-bad-they’re-good dance moves to C+C Music Factory’s ’90s floor-filler “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” at a bar after one too many beer pong games. That’s about as raunchy and wild as it gets in a very PG-13 picture that never even suggests anyone’s having sex before — or even after — marriage.
This is the Roberts-Clooney show all the way, with both also giving the story’s occasional soul-searching moments an emotional heft that will resonate especially with middle-aged viewers. Still, other cast members acquit themselves well with generally limited opportunities. Dever is appealing in the narrowly written and rather old-fashioned role of a young woman who’s head over heels for Gede, but also worried about “letting everyone down” if she follows her heart, and has pleasing chemistry with talented Indonesian-French actor Bouttier in his first major international feature role. Lourd, who played alongside Dever in “Booksmart,” manages some good wisecracks in the best-friend role, while Australian actor Genevieve Lemon scores in a couple of appearances as a talkative plane passenger who shows up on the tourist trail when David would least like her to.
It’s also good to see Balinese culture and days-long wedding rituals being accurately and respectfully depicted, as the final moment of romantic truth comes closer for the young couple and the parents of the bride-to-be. Filmed primarily in the Whitsunday Islands off northern Australia owing to Covid-19 restrictions making location shooting in Bali impossible ,“Ticket” is truly given the look of paradise in the beautifully polished widescreen images of DP Ole Bratt Birkeland (“Judy”). The Aussie duo of production designer Owen Paterson (“The Matrix”) and costumer Lizzy Gardiner (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) also make fine contributions toward creating of a place that seems a million miles away from all the worries of the world. For a slightly overlong 104 minutes, that’s a place many viewers will be happy enough to visit.
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