Ticket to Paradise, review: a beach holiday with Clooney and Roberts? Not like this

George Clooney and Julia Roberts in Ticket to Paradise - Universal Pictures
George Clooney and Julia Roberts in Ticket to Paradise - Universal Pictures

Ticket to Paradise is like an island holiday with something amiss at the centre: despite the balmy weather, impeccable service and silky white sand, you feel at best only a fake form of bliss. More often, as a mid-life romcom – a comedy of remarriage, no less – this is an empty barrel of laughs.

We know Julia Roberts and George Clooney can be funny together, and true, neither is bad in the film. Still, they’ve been funnier doing press for it than they are in it, bickering, in their practised, aren’t-we-screwball way, as long-divorced parents flying into a ludicrously picture-perfect Bali to stop their daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) throwing her legal career away by impulsively getting married.

It’s hard to say what’s off in all this, other than the jokes. So much of the film is breezy preamble – whole scenes, or half-scenes, laboriously setting up punchlines that land with a “huh?” quality, if they land at all. “Unfunny” sounds more damning as an indictment than Ol Parker’s film truly deserves, though – perhaps it’s closer to non-funny. You sift through it for light amusement, trying not to notice the green-screened quality of the exotic backdrops, canned roles for the Balinese, and a general lack of zest.

“Comedy of remarriage”? That term was coined by the critic Stanley Cavell to describe the subgenre of Hollywood films in the 1930s and 1940s where some combination of Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn or Spencer Tracy – but it was usually Grant – let fly, with the verbal energy of exes who definitely hadn’t moved on. Clooney is very much in Grant tribute mode here, and modestly charming in his better scenes, but you catch him overdoing the patter and gesticulations, as if well aware that he needs to give Parker’s script the hard sell.

Meanwhile, Roberts’s Georgia obtains a younger boyfriend called Paul, a commercial pilot played with cute haplessness by the French actor Lucas Bravo (he of Emily in Paris), who is meant to be dull, wet, kind and dopily attractive – it would have been Ralph Bellamy back in the day.

This is a character who exists to be patted on the head: he’s perfectly sweet, but not good enough for the effortlessly charismatic Roberts – but who is? Ticket to Paradise winds up being Paul in film form: ever-so-earnest, light on wit, trying too hard. When it’s in-flight entertainment this winter, no one will necessarily moan, but it plays like a soothing feature-length trailer for your first cocktail on the beach.

12A cert, 104 min. In cinemas from Tuesday 20