Two Tickets to Paradise

General | Oct 10, 2020 | Carlos Castillo

I picked up this DVD because I wanted to see how D.B. Sweeney, an established character actor, would handle directing reins. I also recognized that he’s about my age (he’s actually older), so I knew that his generational perspective was roughly aligned with my own. And, based on my perception of “Two Tickets to Paradise,” I tend to like funny road movies.

I was really paying attention how this character actor handled his characters because I just finished writing a screenplay. Sweeney wrote the film with Brian Currie, who also has a writing credit for “The Green Book,” which I have not seen but garnered a lot of attention (good and bad).

I really wanted to like this film. I liked Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson in John Sayles’ “Eight Men Out” and Dish in “Lonesome Dove.” He’s always solid. And with a cast that includes John C. McGinley, Pat Hingle and Ed Harris (one of my favorite actors, period), I knew at the very least that “Two Tickets to Parradise” would be well-acted, which it was.

Unfortunately, I didn’t laugh much and sensed it was a clunker early on. But the performances kept me in the game. As I watched, I began to wonder what was bothering me about it and hoped to learn something from Sweeney’s noble attempt (I respect ANYBODY who makes a movie) at stepping up in the creative hierarchy of filmmaking.

I’m totally playing Monday-morning quarterback. Easy for me to sit back and second-guess the creative team. But I found this movie valuable from the standpoint of what didn’t work (in my opinion) and why.

First off, McGinley was miscast as Mark, the gambling addict and former BMOC. I just didn’t like him in this role. McGinley exudes an intensity that seems at odds with this character. He just doesn’t have the natural charisma to pull it off. I would have cast a former leading man from back in the day to play this role. I think it would have upped the ante on the creative dynamic between a former leading man and two character actors (Sweeney as Billy and Paul Hipp as Jason).

The dialogue really bothered me. A lot of it seemed contrived. It reminded me of that screwball-comedy delivery that Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell made famous in “His Girl Friday.” It’s witty, and in that type of film it works, but “Two Tickets to Paradise” is not that type of film. What type of film is it? I’ll get to that later.

Another dialogue problem was that too much of the time all the characters spoke like the same character, a common problem in screenplays. The challenge is to give each character a distinct personality, and one’s speech conveys that distinction. I also found the lines were so packed with detail that at times I sensed these very capable actors were doing more reciting than acting.

An example of a dialogue issue: a scene where they go on a beer run. The clerk is Middle-Eastern. Sweeney’s character delivers a mean-spirited line, “Run it, Abdul,” then the clerk responds that his name is not Abdul. Obviously an attempt at humor. What bothers me is the Billy character is supposed to be a nice, sensitive guy, one who takes flowers to his cheating wife. This crass, insensitive line is more in line with McGinley’s character.

McGinley’s Mark is supposed to be the alpha dog and resident bully of the bunch. However, much of the time, Mark is spouting existential lines that would seem more at home with the erudite Jason. Mark is supposed to be the former star quarterback and ladies man. Star quarterbacks don’t tend to dither and tell their friends about contemplating suicide. They throw that pass, believing in their ability to make the throw. They’d jump off the bridge and be done with it.

All this is not to say that I’m against coloring outside the lines of type, but these decisions have to make sense in the context of telling the story. That leads to the question of the film’s tone. This is clearly a buddy pic. But you can have different types of buddy pics. There’s serious ones such as “The Deer Hunter” and light-hearted ones such as “The Hangover.” Sure, you’ll find touches of levity and seriousness in both, but I sense that “Two Tickets to Paradise” tried too hard to straddle both worlds.

The movie went from the stark seriousness of the death of Mark’s dad and gambling addiction to the three friends hitting the road in search of themselves to broad comedy (a car pinwheeling down the road) back to the angst of the trio recognizing their many failures, then a over-the-top scene where Jason wins a bet and a girl by throwing a dart at a dime stuck on her forehead.

The dart scene was particularly weird because all three characters improbably reunite at a bar briefly mentioned earlier in the movie (in a scene rife with magical realism, yet another subgenre added in with the rest). Maybe Sweeney sensed he had one golden ticket to direct a movie and this was it, so he was trying to squeeze everything in at once.

The ending was paint-by-numbers: Billy gets clobbered trying to prove his manhood to Mark, who then realizes the error in his ways during a serious bedside monologue. Mark ends up winning back his family and Billy rides off with a stripper on his Harley. The end.

“Two Tickets to Paradise” was a lesson of less-is-more for me. It had some good lines but needed more discipline in spacing out the laughs verses cramming them into specific scenes like a Three Stooges episode. It had some terrific actors, although most were underused. It looked good. And Sweeney the producer did a good job of stretching the buck (if the stated budget of $1.75M is accurate) and putting that value on the screen.

I really believe Sweeney had something to say as the three men realize their life didn’t turn out as planned. I wish he’d stayed more in that lane instead of venturing off into alligator humor and other gags. Not to mention I’d rather watch something like “Two Tickets to Paradise” than any of the overproduced superhero flicks.

This was Sweeney’s first shot at directing. I’d love to see him take a stab at it again because I’m sure he saw everything I saw. And for any aspiring film writers and directors, learn from Sweeney’s missteps.

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