MOVIE REVIEW- Odd old couple: Not good for any 'Bucket List'
I thought Carl Reiner was the old guy and Rob was his middle-aged son, but Carl still has some edge to his humor while Rob has been cranking out movie after movie so sappy and sentimental they'd embarrass his ex-wife, Penny Marshall. Maybe Archie Bunker was right, and he really is a "meathead."
Rob's latest is The Bucket List, which is obviously designed with Oscar in mind. Released at year-end (year-beginning in Atlanta), it stars two infallibles, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, playing to their strengths; and being about old people, it's designed to appeal to those Oscar voters who actually have time to watch movies.
The movie opens with narration by Freeman, the new James Earl Jones. He sounds like the Voice of God, even when he's not playing God, especially speaking over Himalayan vistas. He tells us Edward Cole died in May, etc., etc.
The rest is flashback. Carter Chambers (Freeman) is a mechanic, married forever to Virginia (Beverly Todd in the film's most Oscar-worthy performance because she's not doing something we've seen her do ad nauseam) and father of three. He's lived a good life, even if the last 40 years or so haven't been very exciting. Now he has terminal cancer.
Ed Cole (Nicholson) has been married four times but prefers his own company to that of women on a long-term basis. He built a billion-dollar business that privatizes public hospitals with the attitude, "I run hospitals, not health spas. Two beds to a room– no exceptions." He too has terminal cancer.
It's a shock to Ed, who can afford an entire floor, to find himself sharing a double room with Carter. Ed's assistant, whom he calls Thomas even though his name is Matthew (Sean Hayes, underplaying too much to make an impact against Nicholson– Hey, it's Jack vs. "Just Jack!"), insists it would be bad p.r. if he didn't play by his own rules.
The freewheeling know-it-all and the noble plodder who really does know it all (Carter missed his calling by not going on Jeopardy) are an odd couple who bond, as odd couples do in movies. One day Ed catches Carter working on an old freshman Philosophy exercise, a "bucket list," a list of goals to accomplish before kicking the you-know-what. It seems different at this end of life than it did at the other, but the idea sparks something in Ed. He can afford to do anything he wants but has no one to do it with– other than Thomas, who will go along to make the arrangements; so he makes his own bucket list, merges it with Carter's, and they're off.
Over Virginia's strong objections, the two men set out to race cars, jump out of planes, and travel to the French Riviera, Egypt, India, Tanzania, China, the Himalayas, and Hong Kong. Each in some way becomes a better man for the experience and for knowing the other, because there has to be something positive in a feelgood movie about two guys dying of cancer.
The screenplay by Justin Zackham carefully mixes the prescribed amounts of silliness, seriousness, and sentimentality with sitcom slickness. Reiner's direction consists of saying "Action!" and "Cut!" and letting the actors do their thing in between. There are minor glitches in editing and continuity that keep The Bucket List from being the classier act it might have been.
A certain susceptible subset of the potential audience will laugh, cry, and find the movie a life-changing experience, but if I were you, I wouldn't put seeing it too high on my bucket list.