- Rated PG-13
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
h where, oh where has Rob Reiner gone? After producing some of the best films of the 1980s (“This Is Spinal Tap,” “The Princess Bride”), the writer/director/actor has been stuck in one of the industry’s longest dry spells. His latest film – the old-guys-on-a-road-trip drama “The Bucket List – may finally recapture some of that box office magic, but it’s still going to fall short of the critical recognition it desperately wants and, quite frankly, needs to be considered an all-around success. After all, what’s the point of talking Jack Nicholson into shaving his head if it isn’t going to earn him an Oscar nod?
The veteran actor stars as Edward Cole, a corporate billionaire who’s just been diagnosed with brain cancer. Forced to share a room with another patient despite owning the hospital he’s being treated in, Edward is introduced to Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), a working class mechanic with a knack for trivia. The two men have absolutely nothing in common, except for one thing: they’re both terminally ill and have been given less than a year to live. Deciding to make the best of their final months, Edward convinces Carter to head off on a cross-country journey to experience a collaborative wish list of things to do before they kick the bucket.
From skydiving and racing classic cars, to dining in France and visiting the pyramids in Cairo, the film’s second act feels more like a scrapbook of postcards than an actual movie. Sure, Edward and Carter are visiting some of the most amazing places in the world, but when the experience is lost on the audience, does it really matter? It probably doesn’t help that the cross-country tour is cheapened by some of the worst visual effects in years. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the dreaded rear-projection screen (a tactic used in older films), and it really makes one question why Reiner didn’t choose a more superior method. Blue screens are being successfully used in movies and TV every day, so why not go that route?
It’s pretty damn lazy if you ask me, but then again, so is the rest of the film. IMDb claims that Justin Zackham wrote the script in only two weeks, and if that’s true, well, he should have taken twice as long to polish it. Nothing memorable ever happens during the course of the film’s 96-minute runtime (except for a little soul searching), and it positively reeks of Reiner trying to make something of nothing. Still, despite the film’s many flaws, “The Bucket List” is one of his better films of the past 15 years – thanks mostly to leading men Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The former has clearly scored the juicier role, but Freeman plays his part as the straight man about as well as the script allows for. His character is a bit lifeless at times (to the point that he might as well have already kicked the bucket), but so is Nicholson’s Cole, who’s supposed to be the livelier of the two.
As you can probably tell from the setup, “The Bucket List” isn’t exactly the feel-good movie of the year, but it isn’t as sad as it would like to be either. There’s only one true tear-jerker moment in the film, and the story itself is surprisingly dull – to the point where it feels more like a day of errands as you watch them cross items off their list one-by-one. Of course, this is just the latest head scratch-worthy release of the season, as a movie about the end of the world and a musical about a murderous barber will have already rung in the New Year by the time it hits theaters. The choice is clear: all Hollywood wants for Christmas is a stocking full of misery.