"Two Tickets to Paradise" is a road-trip picture, a dramatic comedy (or comedic drama) filled with the kind of personal male bonding we've come to expect from such films. Coincidentally, in the several weeks before reviewing "Two Tickets to Paradise," I watched a couple of other road pictures of a far more-humorous and less-ambitious nature, "National Lampoon's Vacation" and "Zombieland," both of which had more insights (and more humor and more bonding) than this movie. Oh, well.
D.B. Sweeney, whom we usually see as an actor, co-wrote, produced, directed, and co-starred in "Two Tickets to Paradise," made in 2006. In 2008 the movie showed up at various film festivals around the world and shortly thereafter made a brief appearance on DVD from First Look Pictures. Now, in 2010 it shows up again on DVD, this time from Paramount and with completely different cover art (just so you don't get confused). I suppose it supports the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed...."
A moment ago I said the picture was either a dramatic comedy or a comedic drama, and I believe it's this failure of the film to make up its mind that initially hurt it with potential viewers. Distributors know that audiences want their films, for good or for bad, neatly wrapped up in one category or another; they like to know what they're going to see. But "Two Tickets to Paradise" is not seriously moving enough to be an earnest drama and simply not funny enough to consider a comedy. Instead, it tries in vain to be a reality-based show, a movie about real people doing real things. Only the characters in the movie aren't real people; they're caricatures we've all seen before, who may start out with familiar real-life problems but wind up solving them in stereotyped, Tinseltown fashion. The film doesn't give the audience much in the way of a thought-provoking narrative or an entertaining road trip to grab onto.
Yet "Two Tickets to Paradise" is not a bad film. We can see that Sweeney and the other filmmakers had their hearts in the right place wanting to produce something weighty and meaningful while providing a few laughs along the way. It's just that in the process, they made a rather ordinary, predictable film filled with various disparate elements that never quite meld into any sort of satisfying whole.
The movie takes place a few decades ago, judging by the cars involved and the mention of Marshall University as a developing football power. The story concerns three buddies who grew up together now finding themselves in their mid thirties facing early mid-life crises. None of them feels they have achieved anything like their potential; indeed, they all feel like losers. Mark Hewson (John C. McGinley) was a hotshot football star in high school, but he never pursued a college education or a football career, winding up with a really big gambling habit that has him into a bookie for twenty-seven grand and a wife who's leaving him. Billy McGriff (D.B. Sweeney) could have been a rock star but instead drives a beer truck and discovers his wife having an affair. Jason Klein (Paul Hipp) is single, works in an Office Max, and never learned to assert himself. As these guys see it, their lives are pathetic.
Then, Jason wins two tickets to the College Championship Bowl. That's it: They decide a road trip is just the thing they need. It will be a drive from Pennsylvania to Florida, a time of rest and relaxation and, most of all, renewal. Or so they hope.
They get into every situation along the way you would anticipate in advance of seeing the movie, with humor that's so subtle it's practically nonexistent. Ed Harris even shows up in what is essentially a cameo as a one-armed carnival worker (or circus roustabout or whatever); it lasts about two minutes. The movie turns out to be a sort of serious version of "Wild Hogs," not that the humor in "Wild Hogs" made that film any better.
The three buddies act like arrested adolescents, squabbling over who's going to use the two tickets, brawling over who's going to sleep in the only two beds in their motel room, stopping at Vanna White's birthplace and inadvertently setting it on fire; that kind of thing. They drink a lot of beer and pee like race horses continuously. It all becomes rather tiresome rather quickly.
Finally, the action goes from juvenile to idiotic as the buddies decide to commit suicide together but then find their manhood and meaning in life through a ridiculously contrived bar fight. Machismo wins the day. Again, none of this is particularly offensive or stupid, just mundane. By the time "Two Tickets to Paradise" is over, you don't feel as though you've completely wasted your time; you just have the nagging suspicion you could have been doing something else more worthwhile.
Oh, well, again. Group hug!
The good news: Paramount engineers transferred the movie to DVD in its native aspect ratio, 1.85:1, using an anamorphic process (enhanced for widescreen TV's). The bad news: The filmmakers shot the movie in 16 mm, blowing it up for 35 mm prints. Not that 16 mm filming is necessarily bad, but it doesn't provide the color, the depth, or the clarity of more-commonly used 35 mm film stock. The result here is a bland, fuzzy picture, with generally dull, faded-looking colors and mostly pale, barely pinkish skin tones. Worse, some reasonably heavy grain gives the image an overall rough appearance. In other words, it ain't pretty.
The disc provides the soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. In 5.1 it sounds about the same as in 2.0, at least in terms of stereo spread and surround activity. Namely, there isn't much stereo spread or much activity in the rear or side speakers. There is a decent mid-bass response, evident in a few background tunes, and there is a glimmer of sparkle in the mid treble. However, there is little deep bass or high treble extension, and the all-important midrange (for a dialogue-driven film like this one) is quite soft, making voices sound veiled, sometimes even muffled.
The disc boasts a modest assortment of the usual extras. First is the mandatory director's commentary, which D.B. Sweeney handles in stalwart fashion. After that we find five deleted scenes that total a little over four minutes, followed by just over five minutes of outtakes. Then we get two alternate trailers, both in non-anamorphic widescreen.
The extras conclude with twelve scene selections; a few previews at start-up and several more in the main menu; English as the only spoken language; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
There's nothing about "Two Tickets to Paradise" that is glaringly awful, nothing to make one truly dislike the film (unless it's the video quality). But that's the best I can say for it because there's nothing especially great about the film, either. It wants sincerely for us to believe in it as a genuine slice of life, yet none of the characters or their actions stay true to reality. They begin well enough, I'll grant you, but then they and the movie drift off into Hollywood clichés. By the time it's over, the movie turns out to be just another one we've seen before.