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Review: George Clooney is the reason to see 'Ticket to Paradise'

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Julia Roberts and George Clooney in “Ticket to Paradise.” Photo: Vince Valitutti/TNS

The main attraction of “Ticket to Paradise” is George Clooney. Julia Roberts is in it too, and she’s good. She’s good with him, which is important. But if there’s a reason to go see this movie, it’s for the pleasure of watching Clooney work.

He is worth paying attention to, because it seems that Clooney isn’t working at all. He seems like he thing to made “Ticket to Paradise” as something fun to do while on vacation in Bali. But notice the way he comes at almost every key moment from an unexpected angle. He never does what you expect him to do, or what another actor would definitely do.

Take a scene in a hotel bar in which he is talking to a friend of his daughter about the collapse of his marriage, 20 years before. In a sense, this is a big moment of revelation, but Clooney plays it like this is a story he’s told over and over, both in his head and to other people. It’s an old story, a trauma but with calluses on it. There’s pain, but it’s old pain, pushed under layers of irony and distance.

Clooney knows that this man is not exactly talking about himself, but about who he used to be. Some life disappointments are so big that a person either falls apart or changes. He thing to survive and ended up a little more charming, blithe and guarded than he once was. He’s still sensitive, but the romance has been beaten out of him.

And wait, there’s more. Into this moment, Clooney also ropes in his awareness that the 25-year-old woman he’s talking to can’t possibly grasp everything he’s saying, though she’ll get some of it. So, of course, he holds something back. A mentally healthy man in his 60s is not going to spill his guts to someone that much younger — he wouldn’t burden her, and he’s too dignified. Clooney gets all of that into the monologue, and yet it’s all like he’s just tossing it away. This is the most generous kind of great acting, designed so that you won’t notice.

George Clooney and Kaitlyn Dever in “Ticket to Paradise.” Photo: Vince Valitutti/TNS

The story of “Ticket to Paradise” concerns a long-divorced couple — Georgia (Roberts) and David (Clooney) — who can’t stand each other, but team up to stop their daughter’s wedding. Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) just graduated law school, but while on vacation in Bali, she met a nice Balinese guy. Now her plan is to give up everything and live the rest of her life on an island.

A problem that “Ticket to Paradise” never overcomes is that romantic comedies must always be on the side of love, and yet anyone out of emotional diapers would be hard-pressed to believe that this marriage is a good idea. She’s a lawyer, and he works in his family’s seaweed farming business. Why don’t they move to where she’d be practicing law? Also, the movie harps on Bali as some amazing paradise, and maybe it seems that way if you live in Kansas. But mountains and ocean views? You could get those elsewhere and still not have to give up your entire life.

Kaitlyn Dever (left) and Maxime Bouttier in “Ticket to Paradise.” Photo: Vince Valitutti/TNS

Dever does her best to make sense of the role and almost does, but I couldn’t help but think that “Ticket to Paradise” might have been more interesting if she’d switched roles with Billie Lourd, who plays her best friend. Lourd is zany and outrageous, and seems like someone who actually might get married on vacation. She even seems crazy enough to make it work. As it stands, Lourd is so vivid in the friend role that, at a certain point, the script stops giving her lines. Otherwise, she’d steal every scene.

Anyway, thanks to Lourd, Clooney and Roberts — who radiates an appealing groundedness and sanity, despite having been suffocatingly famous since her early 20s — “Ticket to Paradise” is a lot more enjoyable than it deserves to be. But it really is enjoyable … except for its last 10 seconds. But that’s a conversation to have after you’ve seen the movie.

M“Ticket to Paradise”: Romantic comedy. Starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Directed by Ol Parker. (PG-13. 104 mins.) In theaters Friday, Oct. 21.