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5 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Bucket List, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Grumpy Old Men and the Big C"
1 stars

Remember that scene in “The Player” in which sleazy studio executive Griffin Mill blithely remarks on the greatness of Vittorio De Sica’s neo-realist classic “The Bicycle Thief” (“So refreshing to see something like this after all these cop movies and things we do.”) and then glibly suggest that maybe someone should do a remake–the implication being that everything that made the original so memorable, chiefly its low-key and resolutely unsentimental tone, would immediately be removed by the powers-that-be and replaced with silliness and schmaltz in an effort to make it more “commercial”? It was a great bit but it appears that some people weren’t aware of the fact that it was supposed to be a joke on the crass venality of Hollywood and not a legitimate suggestion. How else to explain the existence of a film like “The Bucket List,” a film that takes the basic premise of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece “Ikiru,” a delicate but powerful tale of a faceless bureaucrat who discovers that he is dying of cancer and resolves to live his last months to the fullest in order to find some meaning to his existence, and transforms it into a God-awful comedy-drama that seems to suggest that terminal cancer can be a blast as long as you have access to billions of dollars, a green screen machine and a philosophical narrator offering homespun bits of wisdom at every turn?

Jack Nicholson stars as Edward Cole, the billionaire head of an HMO conglomerate who, as the story opens, is diagnosed with terminal cancer and lands up in one of his own hospitals for treatment. Due to one of those screenplay contrivances that is so overexplained that it winds up ringing even more false than it might have if it had simply gone unremarked, he finds himself sharing a room with Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), a working-class mechanic with a profound thought for every occasion, an answer for every question that appears on “Jeopardy” and his own struggles with cancer. Of course, they have nothing in common at first other than their disease but while stuck in that hospital room together, they begin to strike up a kind of friendship that solidifies when they each learn that they only have a few months to live.

Upon learning this news, Carter discards the “bucket list”–a list of things to do before he dies–that he has been idly scribbling on the basis that while it sounds like a good idea when death is theoretical, it doesn’t make sense when the end is painfully near. Edward finds the list and, after adding on a few ideas of his own (the kind that make for big moments in a coming attractions trailer), he decides that the list is actually a great idea and that they should leave the hospital and do them. Of course, this is easy for Edward to say–he has billions of dollars at his disposal and no relatives to speak of outside of an estranged daughter while Carter has a close-knit family that is understandably perturbed by his sudden decision to spend most of his last days gallivanting all over the world in the company of a virtual stranger. Luckily, that minor hiccup is overcome–perhaps he calmed them down by telling them that the majority of his travels would be limited to L.A. soundstages with views of the south of France, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China unconvincingly added in later–and so the two are off. Along the way, the two come to grips with their pasts, accept their current circumstances and tie up al the loose ends in their respective lives while checking off the items on their to-do list. Luckily for them, the very real and painful circumstances of their terminal illnesses never show themselves except for those moments when the screenplay requires them to kick in just in time for some third-act melodrama.

“The Bucket List” was directed by Rob Reiner, a filmmaker whose output in recent years has been so dreadful (including the likes of “North,” “Ghosts of Mississippi,” “The Story of Us” and “Rumor Has It”) that virtually every review of one of his new offerings asks how it can be possible that the man whose first six films (“This is Spinal Tap,” “The Sure Thing,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Misery” and “A Few Good Men”) were so strong and sure could possibly be responsible those recent efforts. Having factored out such standby theories as Reiner having sold his soul to the Devil for his early success (after all, not even old Scratch himself would want to be even vaguely associated with the likes of “Alex & Emma”), I believe that I have come up with an explanation that is a little more plausible. It would seem that instead of being the all-around filmmaker that many assumed Reiner to be on the strength of those earlier works, he is actually more of a journeyman who is only as good or bad as the material that he is working with. Those first six films were wonderful (to be honest, I am not as sold on “A Few Good Men” as others but I am willing to include it in for the sake of argument) but they all had strong screenplays and source materials to work from. (The one exception is, of course, “Spinal Tap” but I am beginning to think that it should be classified more as a Christopher Guest film than one of Reiner’s since it is a virtual blueprint for the dryly hilarious likes of “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show.”) Since then, however, Reiner has inexplicably been choosing the kind of material for which the designation “second-rate” would be exceedingly polite for reasons that I cannot possibly begin to fathom. Has his taste so completely atrophied over the years that he no longer recognizes a good screenplay or has he deliberately been choosing weaker material in the mistaken belief that his directorial instincts are so sound that he can transform even the weakest scripts with his magical touch? I couldn’t begin to guess which but for whatever reason, a Reiner directorial credit has now devolved from something to eagerly look forward to into something to actively fear these days.

To be fair, a couple of those earlier misfires (such as “North” and “Rumor Has It”) had premises that might have worked if they had been executed properly but in the case of “The Bucket List,” I have absolutely no idea what part of the screenplay by Justin Zackham, the author of such deathless classics as “Going Greek” and “The Fastest Man in the World” (yeah, I’ve never heard of them either), could have possibly inspired him to think that it could be made into even a borderline competent movie, let alone a good one. I suppose that if the film had seriously tried to grapple with the idea of a couple of old men on the verge of death trying to find meaning in their lives, it could have resulted in a reasonably heartfelt film and with the right handling of the material, it could have even been a reasonably funny one to boot. Alas, this is the kind of screenplay that frowns on any kind of idea that is too complex to be summed up in a 30-second commercial spot and as a result, all we get are the kind of trite sentiments that Hallmark might reject for being just a little too hackneyed for their own good. Essentially, the film settles into a mind-numbing groove in which Carter says something wise and profound, Edward says something wacky and cynical and then they indulge in some kind of unconvincingly staged stunt that plays more like a geriatric “Jackass” than anything else.

Outside of a couple of manufactured crises (such as Carter’s attempts to get Edward to mend fences with his estranged daughter), that is pretty much the entire story in a nutshell until its tear-jerking conclusion and since we can pretty much guess how all the various story threads are going to end up (if you seriously think that Edward will go to his grave without a tearful reunion with his daughter, you clearly haven’t seen enough schmaltzy melodramas and I can’t imagine why you should start with this one), the only real dramatic tension comes from wondering which one of the old coots is going to croak first and which one is going to get the chance to deliver the flowery eulogy about all the life lessons he learned from the corpse of honor. There are even any colorful supporting characters trotted out to distract us from the predictability of the rest of the material–the closest the film comes is Edward’s assistant/straight man (Sean Hayes) and that role is so weakly conceived as to barely exist. Without any distractions, we are just stuck with the main story and all that we can do is remark on its utter implausibility, its predictability and the surprisingly shoddy technical nature of the whole enterprise. (As I suggested before, the visual effects that are brought into play to try to convince us that our heroes are really in China and Egypt are so remarkably false that it almost feels as if Reiner is doing it on purpose in order to call attention to the artificiality of the entire enterprise.)

The script deficiencies must have been apparent early on but my guess is that once Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman signed on for the project, those concerns were kicked aside on the assumption that people would be too enamored of watching the two popular stars sharing the screen for the first time together to pay much attention to those flaws. For a few minutes early on, that plan does seem to work but as the film goes on (and on–even at a relatively brief 97 minutes, it feels endless), it quickly becomes apparent that the two are just coasting through the film with performances that show the same kind of intense dedication to the material that Frank Sinatra used to show in his later films. In recent years, it has been popular to criticize Nicholson for merely “playing himself” instead of giving and actual performance and while I think he has gotten a bum rap for that in the past (the last few years have actually seen him deliver some of the most subtle and nuanced work of his career–please check out “Blood and Wine” and “The Pledge” for proof of this–and when he has gone broader, as he did in “The Departed,” it was because it fit the character), that is pretty much exactly what he does here–he deploys all the familiar tics that one uses when doing a Nicholson impression but when it comes to getting down to the character, he tackles it in such a lazy manner that it makes his work in “Anger Management” look like “Ironweed” by comparison. Despite being handicapped with most of the speeches involving the important life lessons, Freeman comes off a little better but even he gives off the unmistakable aura of someone who is just going through the motions for the most part.

What is most frustrating about “The Bucket List”is that Nicholson and Freeman are such good actors that if the film had actually treated the its premise with any degree of sensitivity or intelligence–if it had indeed been a true American version of “Ikiru”–it could have actually been as touching and profound and funny as it clearly believes itself to be. Hell, a film consisting of nothing but the two of them watching “Ikiru” could have been more touching and profound and funny than this mess. If you want to see a smart and deeply moving film about a person suddenly forced to deal with their mortality, you should either seek out a theater showing Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” or, if it isn’t playing at a theater near you, rent Sarah Polley’s “Away From Her”–both of these movies take material that could have be transformed into mawkish claptrap in lesser hands and actually deal with it in a profound and meaningful manner. “The Bucket List,” on the other hand, takes the material and turns it into something that is essentially a very expensive made-for-TV movie gone dreadfully and dismally wrong–the kind of film that may not cause you to kick the bucket but which may force you to use it for other reasons.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16827&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/11/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

11/09/11 brian Cliched but well acted and has some nice moments. 4 stars
3/20/11 holly sines i loved this movie...what i expected from Nicholson and Freeman 5 stars
5/31/10 User Name Yes, it's smaltzy and predictable, but the two leads are so enjoyable, you don't notice. 3 stars
5/20/09 michelle a heartfelt movie, america needs more like this!! 5 stars
3/21/09 mr.mike Take 2 old pros , a decent script and stir. 4 stars
11/11/08 Michael M While it's a cliche story, Reiner succeeds in making it believable, which makes it powerful 5 stars
9/15/08 janie thats what friendship is all about... 5 stars
8/05/08 L. Slusarczyk A sweet and enjoyable movie but not sure if its one worth buying 4 stars
6/14/08 Melissa This movie was awesome. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman were phenomenal. Would recommend 5 stars
6/11/08 Jayson I'm not cynical so I liked it. 3 stars
4/13/08 Scott H the story was funny and easy to follow 4 stars
4/12/08 Lambutts Took almost as long to read the review as it did to watch the movie. The movie was better. 5 stars
3/25/08 sarita at last west is thinking on the ideology of india 5 stars
2/21/08 leo the film s crap if u didnt understood d deeper meaning, 8 s really good & has gr8 lessons.. 4 stars
2/16/08 lolcat i had 5 stars for this movie - but i ated them 2 stars
2/10/08 John Geddie Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman are a great pair. Very entertaining. 4 stars
1/26/08 Bob H. Being a cancer vitem myself probably played a large role in my opinion of this film . My wi 5 stars
1/18/08 R.W.Welch A little schmaltzy maybe, but these two guys can carry off anything. C+ 3 stars
1/14/08 Gayle I thoughtt this movie was GREAT & Funny!! 4 stars
1/13/08 Linda A feel good tearjerker movie...one of Jacks best! 5 stars
1/13/08 Daniel Kamen Nicholson is at his best. The negative reviews are from no talent, frustrated critics. 5 stars
1/13/08 John Truly crap! But my wife loved it! 1 stars
1/13/08 josh i loved it,not as funny as i thought it would be.still verry good 4 stars
1/12/08 sandy Loved this movie! I work in a hospital and with hospice. It's FICTION after all. 4 stars
1/03/08 ES Enjoyable, it's not winning Oscars but it had some funny and nice moments 4 stars
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  25-Dec-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2008



Directed by
  Rob Reiner

Written by
  Justin Zackham

  Jack Nicholson
  Morgan Freeman
  Sean Hayes
  Beverly Todd
  Rob Morrow

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