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Movie review: Roberts, Clooney rom-com ‘Ticket to Paradise’ fails to take off

Julia Roberts, left, and George Clooney star in “Ticket to Paradise.”  (Universal Studios)
Julia Roberts, left, and George Clooney star in “Ticket to Paradise.” (Universal Studios)
By Katie Walsh Tribune News Service

When it comes to rom-com movie weddings, beware Julia Roberts – she’s already run away as a bride and sown chaos at her best friend’s nuptials, and now, in “Ticket to Paradise,” her character has set her matrimony-disrupting sights on her own daughter’s union.

Written and directed by Ol Parker, “Ticket to Paradise” reunites Roberts with the rom-com, and with her “Ocean’s Eleven” co-star George Clooney, too, but what should be a slam dunk is instead a missed free throw.

The elements are there: the megastar power of Roberts and Clooney, who banter and eye-twinkle effortfully throughout the film as Georgia and David, the acrimoniously divorced parents of ambitious recent grad Lily (Kaitlin Dever). Before starting her career as a lawyer in Chicago (curiously, after what seems only four years of college), Lily sets off to eat, pray, love her way around Bali with her bestie Wren (Billie Lourd). But one boat rescue by a handsome seaweed farmer, Gede (Maxime Bouttier), sends Lily’s well-laid plans into the drink. The next time her parents see her, it’s in Bali, and unbeknownst to her, they’re finally united – when it comes to sabotaging her wedding.

This is all explicated in the trailer, and the premise is a fine enough rom-com device – two people hate each other, and then, we hope, love each other, only this time they used to love each other, and they both love their daughter, so much that they’d rather see her alone, pursuing her career in America, rather than young and in love in Bali. There’s a whole lot of projecting going on, and yes, the screenplay will spell all of that out for us, too.

Yet, there’s something rather inert about “Ticket to Paradise,” which flirts with high jinks and heightened situations, but doesn’t go all the way, like say, the Sandra Bullock vehicle “The Lost City” did. Instead, “Ticket to Paradise” is rueful, melancholic, almost downcast in its tone, as Georgia and David reflect on their own marriage, gone too soon (or was it?).

No one delivers an empty hotel bar monologue filled with regret like Clooney, and no one offers steely-but-soft wisdom like Roberts, but “Ticket to Paradise” also asks them to engage in silly nonsense like a seaweed harvesting competition and drunken beer pong dancing to the hip-hop hits of the ’90s. The garbled tone never quite works, and neither do these characters. Their motivation for breaking up their daughter’s wedding is unclear, and their likability is predicated entirely on the fact that two very likable movie stars are playing them. Unfortunately, Georgia and David are still very unlikable.

The only person who seems to understand the movie he’s in is Lucas Bravo (of “Emily in Paris” and “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”), who is strangely absent from the trailers, playing Georgia’s younger boyfriend. He gets that this movie should be silly and sweet, and makes a valiant effort, but it is not enough to stem the tide of bad vibes emanating off the central pair.

Clooney and Roberts are masters of crackling banter and chemistry, but it seems clear that Clooney succeeds at this most in films with a dangerous streak, and Roberts needs a character with more quirk or neuroses to shine. Plus, “Ticket to Paradise” spends too much time telling us what their issues are, rather than showing. The whole endeavor is an unfortunate snooze.

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