Movie Review: Roberts and Clooney cash their “Ticket to Paradise”

Julia Roberts and George Clooney wring every last drop of good will and good humor out of their long friendship and screen personas as estranged exes who join forces to stop their daughter from marrying too impulsively and too young in “Ticket to Paradise.” They’re charming together, and they almost win us over in a generally sweet if not exactly hilarious romantic comedy from the director of “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again.”

That’s basically the film Ol Parker — who co-wrote this scenic and utterly inconsequential laugher — remade, “Mama Mia!” without ABBA. Or songs. Or big romantic emotions. Or a star-studded supporting cast.

At least Bali makes a decent alternative to Greece as a setting. Only “Ticket” wasn’t filmed in Bali. Queensland, Australia, with a few Balinese sets and bit players and some digital help, stands in for the “Island Paradise” here.

Clooney plays David, a Chicago builder. Roberts is Georgia, his LA art gallery-owning ex. They married right out of college, regretted it and were divorced within five years. But they have this thing in common — a child.

“The last time David was actually help was the night we made Lily!”

Lily (Kaitlyn Dever of “Booksmart” and “Rosaline,” now on Disney+) has just finished law school (“college” is how the script refers to it), and somehow got through it with a hard-drinking, man-crazy roomie (Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher’s kid, also of “Booksmart”). Wren is this comedy’s comic relief, always ready with a zinger, a bottle or a “pleasure pack” box of Trojans.

The feuding parents have to sit together at graduation, shouting “Love you!”/”Love you MORE!” as Lily gets her diploma. They put her and wild child Wren on a plane to Bali for a few weeks to unwind before starting real life, and that’s that.

In an unfortunate departure from the “Mama Mia!” model, much of the first act is spent with the two graduates as they snorkel, get in trouble and are rescued by a hunky “seaweed farmer” Gede (Maxime Bouttier). We’re subjected to a drab courtship (no sparks here) in a stunning setting that leads to “37 Days Later,” the text that Georgia and David’s go-getter lawyer is about to ditch it all and marry too young and “make the same mistake we did.”

Thrown together on a flight to the wedding, they start cooking up a “Trojan Horse” plan that takes shape after landing. They’ll break up this premature couple-ation, get their girl on the right path and cheat themselves of the charms and quirks of a Balinese wedding.

The scenes that made you perk up in the trailer to “Ticket to Paradise” are the ones that pop in the finished film — Clooney and Roberts bitching/bantering on the plane, getting into a beer pong (Arrack is used instead) contest with the youngsters, which leads to a lot of uninhibited Mom and Dance dancing to ’80s pop.

They click like the old “Oceans” couple that they are, Roberts flinging her hair and barking “You need to calm down,” Clooney unloading “Your telling someone to calm down has never calmed anybody down in the history of the universe!”

But once they’re out to sabotage this “bad decision,” they are in “lockstep.” Only they’re not.

Clooney has some sharp-edged scenes in which he tries to scare off the would-be groom. Roberts is given a boy-toy younger Frenchman (Sean Lynch), an airline pilot, as a dopey, moon-eyed paramour.

It’s just that every situation everybody gets into is a cliche (“stranded” for the night, etc). Throw in the fact that the movie’s on life support when the leads aren’t on screen, and you see the problem.

There are giggles and a few decent laughs here. And it’s as funny seeing Clooney throw himself as bug-eyed mugging (on the dance floor) as it is seeing Roberts shake her groove thing like no one’s watching.

But when the credits roll, there’s nothing here we haven’t already forgotten. Which is why they slap some outtakes under those credits, showing us the way these two click, even between takes. It’s not enough.

Rating: PG-13 for some strong language and brief suggestive material.

Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Maxime Bouttier and Sean Lynch

Credits: Directed by Ol Parker, scripted by Ol Parker and Daniel Pipski. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:44

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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