The Bucket List (Warner Bros; PG-13)

jackbl.jpgThe list idea is an appealing one, and there are genuinely touching moments late in the film where you’ll be tempted to think about what would be on your own list in such circumstances. Some may decry this film for being too sentimental, but actually, considering the direction it could have gone in with people like Reiner at the helm, it’s a fairly well-balanced effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You wanna add an extra dash of poignancy to your film, just have Morgan Freeman do a voiceover. Freeman, one of our most authoritative actors (even playing God—rather convincingly, I should add—in Bruce Almighty) has done voiceovers in films as diverse as March of the Penguins and Million Dollar Baby, and you tend to pay attention when that commanding voice utters something. As it does again in The Bucket List, Rob Reiner’s latest directorial effort, which pairs Freeman with fellow Oscar alumnus Jack Nicholson.

The two acclaimed actors play cancer patients sharing the same hospital room, handling the reality of their pending demise in different ways. Aging auto mechanic Carter Chambers (Freeman), seems to be accepting his fate quietly, keeping his attention occupied by reading books, while his doting wife Virginia (Beverly Todd) tells him not to lose hope. Grumpy billionaire Edward Cole (Nicholson) actually owns the hospital where he’s being treated, but that won’t make his stay there any easier or his reality any different. Cole notices Chambers making some sort of list, which turns out to be various things he’s always wanted to do in life but never got around to. That’s largely because Chambers, a philosophical type who excels at Jeopardy!, had to give up his dream of being a history professor to support a growing family. Cole has been stymied in a different way—although a mega-successful businessman, his personal life has been a shambles, what with four failed marriages and a bitter estrangement from his only daughter. Cole talks Chambers into adding a few things to his list, most of which will involve traveling to exotic places—something that Cole can afford with ease.

So off the two curmudgeons go, to dine in luxurious style in the south of France, behold wonders of the world like the pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal, and enjoy spectacular scenery such as the Himalayas. There are also slightly less ambitious activities like car racing and skydiving to enjoy. As these travelogue-style scenes unfold, what you mostly enjoy is the bantering back and forth of these veteran actors. Freeman is his typical rock-solid self, although with a sense of constrained vulnerability that’s often quite moving. Nicholson, who you expect to be engagingly hammy at times, is—but it’s balanced by some convincing bursts of anger and an easy way with dialogue (penned by first-time screenwriter Justin Zackham) that makes you root for his character despite his narcissism. The camaraderie with Freeman is genuine and anchors the movie, despite the lapses of credibility (very few health concerns seem to plague the men during their travels, for example). There’s also an extra dash of comic relief provided by Cole’s casually cynical factotum, Thomas (Sean Hayes, of Will & Grace fame).

The list idea is an appealing one, and there are genuinely touching moments late in the film where you’ll be tempted to think about what would be on your own list in such circumstances. Some may decry this film for being too sentimental, but actually, considering the direction it could have gone in with people like Reiner at the helm, it’s a fairly well-balanced effort. Nicholson and Freeman are interesting enough actors to provide emotional nuance when needed, and whatever one may say is inevitably predictable in this sort of project, you still have the fun of watching legendary stars working (and playing) well together. And just try to rein in your emotions during some of Freeman’s later bits of introspective voiceover. If you succeed, there’s an entry you oughta make on your own “bucket list,” like “be more receptive to well-intentioned movies, especially in this era of short attention spans.” | Kevin Renick

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