Tuesday, January 8, 2008

On Second Thought, Pass Me the Bucket: The Bucket List review

1 star

Have you ever been out shopping with a pal and you tried on a sweater that looked like everything else in your wardrobe and your friend helpfully said, “Don’t you own that already?”
Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson need to get better friends.
It’s not just that the two actors are playing characters we’ve seen them play countless times before—Nicholson, an ornery and irascible billionaire; Freeman, a wise and sagacious good egg—they’re playing ersatz versions of these characters. This is a made for TV version of a Morgan Freeman/Jack Nicholson buddy film, except it actually stars Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. (And it’s directed by Rob Reiner. Oh, whither Meathead?)
One critic suggested the film might be better if the two actors had switched parts, and I sort of agree. At the very least, it would have been more watchable. But in the end, nothing can save this cloying, shallow, disingenuous film from itself.
Here’s the premise: Two old men meet in a hospital room. Edward Cole (Nicholson) actually owns the hospital (among others)—he only shares a room because his personal assistant/whipping boy (Sean Hayes) convinces him it’s a good PR move. His roomie Carter Chambers (Freeman) is a mechanic and trivia whiz who sacrificed a college degree to support his family. (How do we know Carter’s smart? Because he shouts out the answers to Jeopardy questions. Can we put a moratorium on this character device please?). Both men are dying of cancer but are conveniently “asymptomatic.”
While Carter—who provides the film’s patient, doting voiceover narration (I know, it pains me to write this as much it pains you to read it)—has a loving family, lonely Edward has four ex wives and an estranged daughter. (Gee, wonder if Carter is going to facilitate some sort of father/daughter reunion? Oh, I don’t want to spoil the surprise). While at first the men dislike each other (so different from other buddy films I’ve seen!), they eventually become allies and friends.
It is then that the concept of The Bucket List—a list of things both men want to do before they “kick the bucket”—is introduced and the two fogies embark on one last intercontinental adventure.
Just take a guess as to what they might do.
If you guessed skydiving, you’d be right!
If you guessed race car driving, give yourself two more points!
View the pyramids? Check and double check!
Dine at the finest restaurant in Paris? Oui, oui, oui.
And so on.
The list also has some vague, treacly entries like, “See something truly majestic” and “Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world”—designed to wrench maximum tears from the audience.
What else can I say? The film is one big fake, by-the-numbers buddy film crossed with some comforting Hallmark bits of faux-wisdom on death.
You want to see a film that tackles death and love with sincerity and guts? Rent Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. But whatever you do, stay away from this stinker. Let Freeman and Nicholson know that even they can wear out their welcome.

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