The Bucket List
|Morgan Freeman||Carter Chambers|
|Jack Nicholson||Edward Cole|
|Rob Morrow||Dr. Hollins|
|Directed by||Rob Reiner|
The Bucket List is a franchise movie. The franchises are Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The betting is that with Jack and Morgan carrying the bucket, you won’t be able to resist. Jack Nicholson – the aging prince of Hollywood, the septuagenarian bad boy, leering, grinning, twitching, arching his shaggy eyebrows, shaking his jowls, trailing his unspoken mantra of “Heeeeee’re’s Johnny!” And then Morgan Freeman – the perfect counterbalance, the venerable sage of Hollywood, soft-spoken, gentle, intelligent, philosophical, dignified. Honey, it’s a movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. How bad can it be?
Well, that insurance policy pays off, up to a point. You get the performances you expect from these two great stars, which lift this story mercifully but marginally above its meager content. The content involves two old guys dying of cancer. Carter Chambers (Freeman) is a garage mechanic. He’s a very smart garage mechanic, a walking Wikipedia who can rattle off all the answers on Jeopardy, but doesn’t have an answer for the tumor that is eating at his brain. He started off with loftier dreams, but when little Chamberses started arriving, Carter had to give up college and start wielding a wrench to support his family. But he never gave up his passion for learning.
Edward Cole (Nicholson) is a billionaire health care mogul who owns, among other things, the hospital where Carter is taken. He’s a sonofabitch who’s been married far too often, is estranged from his only daughter, has pretensions about the finer things in life, and treats his employees -- particularly his durable, laconic lackey Thomas (Sean Hayes) -- like dirt. At a board meeting where he lays down some Spartan cost-cutting measures (“Two patients to a room, no exceptions!”) he collapses and is rushed to the hospital. Yes, his own hospital. And yes, into the other bed in the double room occupied by Carter. As if. This is a stretch that could only spring from the mind of a screenwriter desperate for a situation,
It is giving nothing away to say that both men are diagnosed with terminal cancer, with only months to live. That’s the set-up. So they compile the eponymous list, jotting down on a legal pad the things they’d like to do before they kick the proverbial bucket. The list consists of things concrete, like visiting the Taj Mahal, and things coyly amorphous, like “kiss the prettiest girl in the world.” The list, like the script of this movie, lacks depth and a cutting edge.
As luck would have it, they both have the kind of cancer that lets them spring from their hospital beds and go gallivanting around the world like a couple of playboys on human growth hormones. Cost is no object, since Edward is picking up the tab. They start off with a few adrenaline hors d’oeuvres, like skydiving and tearing around a track in race cars, merrily bashing each other like kids in bumper cars. Then it’s off to see the world, perching atop the pyramids, rollicking along the Great Wall of China, and trekking through the Himalayas, while Carter rattles off facts like a travel guide, and both philosophize like fortune cookies.
They ride in luxury in Edward’s corporate jet, which includes such features as nubile and sexually compliant flight attendants, of which Edward takes advantage off in the private bedroom while Carter, a married man, curls up with a good book in the main cabin.
Carter has left behind his wife of 47 years (Beverly Todd) to go off and bond with Edward in globe-trotting senior delinquency, and she is understandably a little put out that he has not elected to spend his days with her, as they dwindle down to a precious few. But things have been a little strained in their marriage, and hey, the man needs space. We needn’t worry in the long run about whether he’ll do the right thing. We know who he is. He’s Morgan Freeman.
The director manipulating this maudlin trifle is Rob Reiner, whose résumé boasts some great comedies (The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally), but not in quite a while. Reiner pretty much stands aside and lets Jack be Jack and Morgan be Morgan, which is a good idea, but maybe not sufficient to carry The Bucket List over its canned homilies, forced situations, and depressing subject matter. The star wattage may be enough to open the picture, but audiences are not likely to warm to it.
The Bucket List imagines itself as a bold, black comedy, looking death square in the eye and laughing in its face. It has one leg in comedy and one in pathos, and it is an uncomfortable straddle. When Edward is wheeled into the hospital room he is obliged to share with a garage mechanic, the nurse offers to help him from the gurney to his bed. “I can manage by myself,” he snaps, and of course proceeds to fall between the two onto the floor. As unintentional metaphors go, this one does nicely to sum up the movie.
© Text 2008 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be