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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Ticket to Paradise

"Ticket to Paradise,” the latest vacation romp from the filmmaker Ol Parker (who penned “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and wrote and directed “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”), is a screwball adventure that forgets to pack the laughs.

Having made a mint off his picturesque travelogues of Jaipur and Greece, Parker — who never met a mosquito that wasn’t edited out in post — now concocts a fantasyland Bali where an American law school graduate named Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) falls in love with a dimpled kelp farmer (Maxime Bouttier) and agrees to marry him one month after he quite literally fishes her from the sea.

The script by Parker and Daniel Pipski has scrubbed away any apprehensions concerning economics, education or class. (Lily’s intended, Gede, lives in a well-appointed beach hut filled with leather-bound books.) Nevertheless, Lily’s engagement proves to be the one thing able to unite her estranged parents David and Georgia (George Clooney and Julia Roberts), who hop on a plane to prevent the wedding.

Any apprehensions the audience might have concerning the plot are confirmed during this flight sequence where the spiteful exes discover that not only are they stuck in the same seat row, but Georgia’s current boyfriend, a puppyish Frenchman (Lucas Bravo), is — surprise! — the pilot.

Such contrivances (and the even more ludicrous ones to follow) could work if the comedy vibrated on the edge of mania, if Roberts had a jolt of Katharine Hepburn’s wackadoo electricity or if Clooney’s Clark Gable-esque grin allowed him to convincingly grab a spear and hunt a wild pig when he hasn’t eaten since lunch.

But these stars are too aware that the film’s draw is simply seeing the two of them together. Roberts and Clooney wear their stature like sweatpants, rousing themselves to do little more than spit insults like competitive siblings. They’re selling their own comfortable rapport, not their characters’ romantic tension.

When Parker needs to project that Roberts is steaming mad, he puts a clothes steamer in her hand so she can deliver her gripes between gusts of hot air. Dever, a major talent who will likely win her own Oscar someday, is too earnest to commit to inanity, while the marvelous Billie Lourd — the one cast member who can execute the tone — is squandered in a bit part where her sole personality trait is being drunk.

Eventually, the film succumbs to the actors’ delusion that they’re in a sincere dramedy where people also conveniently get bitten by poisonous snakes. The score shifts from playful flutes to somber piano chords; the lighting remains golden, bathing the actors in an apricot glow at the expense of forcing half the movie to take place at sunrise or sunset.

One person’s paradise is another’s circle of hell, particularly if that person has an aversion to rich American tourists and movies that resemble glossy corporate videos.

The script makes it clear that these two are secretly still in love and that the upcoming wedding is not the real romance here. The course of true love rarely did run smooth – except in this instance, when it could be travelling on greased rails.

It wants to be an old-school Hollywood screwball comedy in the vein of The Awful Truth or My Favourite Wife. Maybe Cary Grant and Irene Dunne could have made this fly, although even they may have required more grit, more rigour and a director less easily seduced by every white sandy beach and golden sunset that he sees.

Clooney and Roberts try their best but they’re finally not much more than decoration themselves, the filmic equivalent of plastic figurines on a cake.

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