January 08, 2008

The Bucket List

Driving Mr. Crazy


Grade: C
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, and Sean Hayes
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

The last time a couple of secondhand geezers hammed it up in a movie about the need to live life to its fullest – to wit: spend as much of your money as possible on material possessions before you die – Robert Duvall and Michael Caine were buying airplanes and hunting big game on their front yard. Spiritual fulfillment via consumerism was also the premise of Queen Latifah’s Last Holiday, which posits not only does financial indulgence make you feel better, it cures brain tumors, too. Funny…that is the same swindle televangelists have been preaching for years.

Lest anyone be tempted to believe that The Bucket List is little more than an excuse to finally team Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, witness the lack of imagination in the umpteenth (and perhaps most pointless) use of Freeman as voiceover narrator plus a plotline partly driven by the Daisy-esque spectacle of a black man of modest means serving as the friend-for-hire to a rich, dying white person.

Freeman’s Carter Chambers is a Jeopardy whiz who once gave up a career in academia to toil away as a car mechanic in order to provide for his family; Nicholson’s Edward Cole is a crabby health care tycoon who on the way to making billions alienated his family and friends. Get the irony? When they are assigned to the same hospital room after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Carter’s whimsical list of things he would like to accomplish before he dies gets hijacked by Edward, who adds skydiving, drag-racing, world travel, and, of course, big-game hunting to the list.

Never mind that Edward’s buy-a-buddy routine steals Carter away from his wife (Beverly Todd) during the precious few hours left in their marriage. Edward’s need for a traveling companion – and director Rob Reiner’s latent nod to white guilt – demand that he foot the bill so the two steal can away to Egypt, Africa, China, France, and Nepal aboard Edward’s private jet, or, more precisely, Reiner’s shabby green-screen.

Some of The Bucket List’s best moments are its most subdued, particularly the tender moments Edward and Carter share in the hospital while combating their disease and when Carter surreptitiously attempts to reconcile Edward with his estranged daughter. But, those isolated respites are interspersed with such nonsense as Edward dangling a high-class hooker in front of Carter, apparently attempting to supplement their figurative homoerotic affair with a literal hetero one.

Nicholson and Freeman’s performances might have been categorized as earnest were they not essentially caricatures of themselves – Nicholson in particular seems to be channeling a Frank Caliendo impersonation of himself. Juxtaposed against such poignant examinations of mortality as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Kurosawa’s Ikiru, The Bucket List comes off as Disneyfied tripe culminating with the grumpy old men being interred together atop the snow-capped summit of Reiner’s Pollyannaish crag. Just called it “Ebony and Ivory Tower.”

Neil Morris

1 comment:

Billy Liggett said...

Best old geezer movie ever is Grumpy Old Men. Grumpier Old Men was a close second.