Judge Michael Rankins has been to Paradise, and found it overrated.
Our review of Two Tickets To Paradise, published July 22nd, 2008, is also available.
"You just went from Joe Montana to steak sauce."—Mark Hewson
The legendary American poet John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, "Pity us all, who vainly the dreams of youth recall; for of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!'"
When he penned those immortal lines, Whittier might have been thinking of the three protagonists of Two Tickets To Paradise. Then again, he might have been thinking of the film itself.
Facts of the Case
The future was once so bright that boyhood chums Mark Hewson (John C. McGinley, Scrubs), Billy McGriff (D.B. Sweeney, Miracle At St. Anna), and Jason Klein (Paul Hipp, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil) might have worn shades, back in the day.
Twenty years post-high school, what long ago shone brightly has been ground into dullness by the vicissitudes of life. Star quarterback Mark, instead of winning the big games, now gambles on them—and loses, badly. Rock idol Billy, his skyrocketing musical career having fizzled, drives a beer truck to support his cuckolding wife Kate (Moira Kelly, Sweeney's costar in The Cutting Edge). Class valedictorian Jason still resides with his folks, and tries to spark a social life by making awkward passes at comely young women shopping in the office supply store where he works.
Jason's luck momentarily turns when he wins a company Christmas giveaway, scoring two ducats to college football's national championship bowl game. With the intention of scalping a third ticket upon arrival, the boys set out for Miami in Mark's bedraggled Plymouth Fury. Along the journey from Pennsylvania southward, our woebegone adventurers struggle to come to grips with glories faded, dreams deferred, and the inexorable onrush of middle age.
Like its lead characters, Two Tickets To Paradise started with a wealth of potential. Unfortunately, as some anonymous sports scribe observed, potential only means you haven't done anything yet. It would be unfair to say that this film and its first-time director, actor D.B. Sweeney (who also produced), don't accomplish anything. As we'll note shortly, some aspects of Two Tickets To Paradise are quite entertaining. In the end, however, most viewers will be left with the lingering sense that there could have been so much more.
Making his first feature on a shoestring budget, Sweeney enlisted the aid of several acting colleagues—John C. McGinley, Paul Hipp, Moira Kelly—and landed a handful of surprising cameos (Ed Harris's brief walk-on as a one-armed ex-circus roustabout consumed a chunk of the digital effects budget; former centerfold Janet Jones—Mrs. Wayne Gretzky—makes her first screen appearance in a decade as Mark's wife; familiar faces Pat Hingle, Rex Linn, M.C. Gainey, and Vanna White—as herself—pop up for a scene or two each). McGinley acquits himself especially well, carrying much of the film with a bravura performance that's alternately hilarious and pathetic, and resonates with honesty in both directions. The rest of the cast is fine, too. So, the problem doesn't lie with the personnel on screen.
Alas, Sweeney's earnest motivations are undone by the screenplay he and cowriter Brian Currie (who plays a supporting role as a loan shark's leg-breaker) have crafted. Again, the script has potential—the writers understand how to create realistic, sympathetic characters, and they exhibit a nicely nuanced ear for dialogue. However, Sweeney and Currie can't decide to what percentage the film ought to be comedic, and how much of it ought to be serious and thought-provoking. As a result, the film vacillates with obvious discomfort between its emotional poles. Several of its humorous sequences feel as though they were ported in from another, less competent film, while others are effective—I laughed out loud at least twice, and chuckled a few times beyond that. However, the writers' constant pull back into levity blunts the impact of some genuinely strong dramatic material.
Sweeney and Currie also give in to another rookie filmmakers' foible: trying to do too much. The narrative introduces characters and even entire plot lines that it abandons along the wayside like red-haired stepchildren. (Moira Kelly's role, in particular, feels as if the best pages of her script must have been burned in a backstage fire.) Was Ed Harris's cartoonish carny necessary to the story? Or M.C. Gainey's philosophical barfly? Did either of these serve any purpose than to add a well-known actor's résumé to the production, or perhaps pad a slim running time? With three interesting, smartly conceived characters already front and center, these distractions blur the movie's focus, giving it a scattered, unfinished quality.
It's regrettable, because the actors try their darnedest to redeem the material, and McGinley and Sweeney himself, to a lesser degree, even manage to surpass it on occasion. Those occasions are insufficient, however, to completely overcome the tonal inconsistencies and diffuse narrative stream. There's potential in Two Tickets To Paradise, but the film remains mostly that—potential.
Paramount's DVD release of Two Tickets To Paradise appears to be little more than a relabeling of the previous iteration distributed by First Look. The feature transfer is serviceable, but the film's independent origins are betrayed by the grainy stock used. The audio track, likewise, does the job it's supposed to do, but without fanfare.
D.B. Sweeney provides an engaging (if maddeningly low-energy) commentary track. His experiences in bringing this largely self-financed picture to the screen make valuable listening for would-be filmmakers and movie buffs alike. (Lesson #1: Product placement means production budget gold. And free beer. And doughnuts, but only once a week.) The package also includes a set of deleted scenes—mostly character-expanding diversions from the central storyline, which the movie does just fine without—an outtake reel, and two trailers for the film (one of which promotes the picture under its working title, Dirt Nap). In addition, previews for She's Out Of My League and Pretty Bird are here for the, ah, previewing.
Not bad for a first directing effort, but not good enough to recommend, Two Tickets To Paradise warrants a look only for diehard fans of road pictures (who will have seen most of this thematic material elsewhere), or of John C. McGinley (there have to be at least a couple of those out there, right?).
D.B. Sweeney might have a great motion picture in him someday, but this one needed a touch more refinement and seasoning. To quote Whittier, "It might have been!"
Although its crimes amount to little more than misdemeanors, Two Tickets
To Paradise is guilty of unfulfilled potential, bipolar personality, and
being named for an Eddie Money song that doesn't appear on the soundtrack. The
Judge sentences it to remedial screenwriting classes. We're adjourned.
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