‘THE UP­SIDE’ IS A CLICHE-RID­DEN, EXPLOITATIVE MESS

Techlife News - - SUMMARY -

It’s said that Jan­uary is one of the prime months that Hol­ly­wood chooses to dump its most em­bar­rass­ing films and “The Up­side” doesn’t ex­actly dis­prove that no­tion.

Few films in mem­ory have squan­dered so much act­ing tal­ent in such a cliche-rid­den, exploitative and dis­hon­est way. It de­serves its frozen grave.

The film stars Kevin Hart as a lazy, skirt-chas­ing ex-con hop­ing to re­con­nect with his es­tranged wife and son. He ac­ci­den­tally gets a job tak­ing care of an ob­scenely wealthy New York busi­ness­man who be­came a para­plegic while hang glid­ing, played by Bryan Cranston. (“You as rich as Jay-Z?” Hart’s char­ac­ter asks. “No, richer,” comes the re­ply.)

You can vir­tu­ally write the rest as ”The Up­side ” un­spools. Will Hart’s street-wise Dell break his high-class boss out of his lux­ury Park Av­enue apart­ment and teach him about the joys of cor­ner-bought weed, street hot dogs and driv­ing the older man’s fleet of Fer­raris very fast? Oh, yes. Rich white dudes in these films al­ways need loos­en­ing up.

Will Cranston’s Phillip teach his young aide about the joys of opera, in­vest­ing in start-ups, kumquats and ab­stract paint­ing? You saw that com­ing, too, huh? Poor black guys in these films could al­ways use some smarten­ing up.

The movie is based on a true story — and lifted from the 2011 French film “Les In­touch­ables” — but no one re­ally worked on the shaky ra­cial an­gle for an Amer­i­can au­di­ence, one that has seen el­e­ments of this in movies such as “Driv­ing Miss Daisy” or “Trad­ing Places” (that last one also has a pot­tery smash­ing scene).

Hart of­ten plays a ver­sion of the mag­i­cal black man, a hur­ri­cane of truth who read­justs the stuffy white world. There are mo­ments when race could have been ad­dressed — “Your plan­ta­tion is ba­nanas,” Hart’s Dell tells Phillip, “but I’m no­body’s ser­vant” — how­ever it’s quickly dropped. There’s also a mo­ment when the two men bond over both feel­ing mostly in­vis­i­ble to the larger so­ci­ety — one in a wheel­chair, the other a mi­nor­ity in white Amer­ica — but that pe­ters out.

There’s not enough drama and yet not enough laugh-out-loud mo­ments. Hart shines in a scene in which he en­coun­ters a high-tech shower with a ro­bot voice in Ger­man, but a later scene in which he cuts Cranston’s fa­cial hair is marred by

a Hitler joke. When you have hired con­sum­mate co­me­di­ans in Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, re­ly­ing on a Hitler joke is a sign some­thing has gone hor­ri­bly wrong. (An­other sign: This joke — “You are Verdi ugly.”)

The film comes with its own heavy bag­gage, in­clud­ing that it was pre­vi­ously owned by The We­in­stein Co., be­fore it col­lapsed amid the Har­vey We­in­stein sex­ual mis­con­duct scan­dal. Reac­quired, it is re­leased as Hart deals with fall­out over his pre­vi­ous ho­mo­pho­bic tweets, not helped now by a per­for­mance in the film in which he balks at us­ing the word “pe­nis” and ini­tially out­right re­fuses to change his boss’ catheter be­cause it means touch­ing an­other man’s pri­vates.

Hart, a comic force, re­veals his lim­its as a dra­matic ac­tor in his fish-out-of-wa­ter role, while Cranston shows only a few glimpses of his formidable skills, es­pe­cially when he turns steely. Ap­pear­ances by Ni­cole Kid­man, Aja Naomi

King and Ju­lianna Mar­gulies are wel­come, un­der­stated — and com­pletely wasted.

Mostly the prob­lem is that once the film­mak­ers — led by direc­tor Neil Burger — es­tab­lish their odd cou­ple pair­ing, they don’t know what to do with it. Dell needs money to re­pair his fam­ily and Phillip needs love after los­ing his wife.

Jon Hart­mere’s screen­play needs ten­sion, so it’s ar­ti­fi­cially added when the rich dude starts lash­ing out at his staff and grow­ing de­pressed after a bad blind date. The an­swer? Our he­roes go hang glid­ing. Roll cred­its.

Only one per­son re­ally comes through this whole me­an­der­ing mess un­scathed: Aretha Franklin. The late Queen of Soul, it turns

out, is the key that con­nects Dell and Phillip, par­tic­u­larly when it’s re­vealed that Franklin sang opera, too. Her mu­sic fills the sound­track and that’s the only rea­son this film gets any points, the only up­side, if you will. Bet­ter yet, skip this movie and just put on one of her CDs.

“The Up­side,” an STX En­ter­tain­ment re­lease, is rated PG-13 for “sug­ges­tive con­tent and drug use.” Run­ning time: 125 min­utes. A half star out of four.

MPAA Def­i­ni­tion of PG-13: Par­ents Strongly Cau­tioned. Some ma­te­rial may be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for chil­dren un­der 13.

The Up­side | Of­fi­cial Trailer

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