Their last hur­rah

Big stars can’t make this movie shine, writes Michael Dwyer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

THE BUCKET LIST Di­rected by Rob Reiner. Star­ring Jack Ni­chol­son, Morgan Free­man, Sean Hayes, Bev­erly Todd, Rob Mor­row 12A cert, gen re­lease, 97 min

AF­TER his aus­pi­cious cin­ema de­but in 1984 with This Is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner di­rected a suc­ces­sion of well-crafted en­ter­tain­ments over the next 10 years, mov­ing smoothly be­tween gen­res: com­edy (When Harry Met Sally); thriller (Mis­ery); drama (A Few Good Men, The Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent), fan­tasy (The Princess Bride) and com­ing-of-age movies (The Sure Thing, Stand By Me). The past decade, how­ever, has seen Reiner re­duced to such pif­fle as The Story of Us and the il­lad­vised spin-off from The Grad­u­ate, Ru­mor Has It.

His new movie, The Bucket List, does not rep­re­sent a re­turn to form.

Dou­bling as nar­ra­tor, Morgan Free­man ap­plies his sonorous tones and au­topi­lot grav­i­tas over the open­ing in a vain at­tempt to in­vest some sig­nif­i­cance into the wispy yarn that un­folds.

Free­man plays Carter, a garage me­chanic whose youth­ful am­bi­tion to be­come a his­tory pro­fes­sor went un­re­alised be­cause of fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer, Carter finds him­self shar­ing a hospi­tal room with Ed­ward (Jack Ni­chol­son), a self-made bil­lion­aire who, af­ter four failed mar­riages, has dis­cov­ered that money can’t buy him love.

Justin Zack­ham’s screen­play con­trives to throw the two men to­gether be­cause Ed­ward, who owns the hospi­tal, im­posed the rule whereby there are two pa­tients to each room, with no ex­cep­tions. Ed­ward him­self re­sents hav­ing to com­ply with this, but it never oc­curs to him that, with all his mil­lions, he could choose any hospi­tal he wanted.

If he did, of course, the movie could not be formed as an­other vari­a­tion on the “odd cou­ple” for­mula, whereby con­trast­ing char­ac­ters over­come an ini­tial mu­tual an­tipa­thy to bond warmly as soul­mates. De­cid­ing that life’s too short, and get­ting very short for both of them, Ed­ward and Carter es­cape into the out­side world to re­alise un­ful­filled am­bi­tions.

The movie takes its ti­tle from Carter’s agenda of things he wants do be­fore he kicks the bucket, as he puts it, and th­ese two men, who have noth­ing to lose any­more, en­gage in sky­div­ing, rac­ing vin­tage cars, and tour­ing the world in Ed­ward’s private plane to see the Taj Mahal, Ever­est, the Pyra­mids and the Great Wall of China. This travelogue se­quence is so un­con­vinc­ingly com­put­er­gen­er­ated that the ac­tors ap­pear never to have left the stu­dio.

There is an ev­i­dent chem­istry be­tween the charis­matic co-stars, and there are some sparks in their ban­ter, which sounds ad-libbed, but nei­ther Ni­chol­son nor Free­man can dis­guise the unin­spired na­ture of Zack­ham’s ma­te­rial and its phoney epipha­nies, to which Reiner use­fully could have ap­plied some of the ir­rev­er­ence he brought to Spinal Tap.

film Slumpy old men: Jack and Morgan

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