Last train to Geezerville

Posted on 10 Jan 2008 at 7:51pm
By Steve Warren Contributing Film Critic

It’s Jack vs. “‘Just Jack’ in Reiner’s sappy, feel-good cancer flick



THE RICH BUZZARD AND HIS PUNCHING BAG: Terminally-ill Ed (Nicholson, left) and his personal assistant, Thomas (Hayes).

THE BUCKET LIST

C+

Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, Rob Morrow and Beverly Todd
Opens Jan. 11 in wide release.
1 hr. 37 min PG-13

I thought Carl Reiner was the old guy and Rob was his middle-aged son. Carl’s humor still has some edge to it. But lately, Rob has been cranking out movies that are 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, who is 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), 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. The list 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 jump out of planes, race cars 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. And because there has to be something positive in a feel-good 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.



Tune in for Dallas “‘Idol’ auditions

In August, about 13,000 hopefuls turned out to audition for “American Idol,” including almost all of the 2007 Voice of Pride finalists, like 26 year old Las Colinas resident Junye Butler, pictured.

Will Butler’s audition make the final cut? Find out on Wednesday when “American Idol” devotes its two-hour show to the Dallas tryouts.

Jan. 16 at7 p.m. on Fox (Channel 4).

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 11, 2008

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