Don’t be alarmed if you’ve the sense that you’re alone in being stalked — to the local multiplex beside the four-lane, inside the movie rental store on the corner, or even by your mailbox to retrieve your latest Netflix DVD. You're not — alone, that is. The watchers are being watched. By Morgan Freeman. The cinematic truth-seeker has cornered the market on a unique and tiresome brand of fantastical theatrical omnipresence. Whether it’s a lady pugilist, a war of the worlds, or arctic penguins, it appears everyone’s lives are being surreptitiously observed and chronicled, from an angelically cosmic place high up above, by the trustworthy, mortal-teethed (periodontal whitener, anyone? ) veteran actor. It’s sensible —even incumbent upon us— to conclude that director Rob Reiner’s (Rumour Has It…, 2005) The Bucket List is just another plot in Freeman’s clandestine attempt at world narrator-domination. Farfetched, you say. If Freeman’s telling movie-ubiquitousness makes me, and quite possibly, you, feel like Jim Carrey's Truman Burbank in The Truman Show (1998), then maybe we’re really not alone.
Freeman is Carter Chambers, a sage old auto mechanic —and the world’s greatest amateur Jeopardy! player— that’s a father to three grown children and faithfully married for 45 years. He’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Chambers is hospitalized, and medical policy requires two beds to a room. Billionaire Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson), also suffering from terminal cancer, is his clinical roommate. Neither is pleased with having to acquaint themselves. Given that Cole is the hospital owner-magnate that bullheadedly created the two-bed policy (ironic, right?), nothing PC can be done to circumvent said circumstances.
Cooped up together, the couple of old coots recalcitrantly make small talk before the requisite emotional flood-gates open as they share their cliché-ridden philosophies about life and death. Regrets, mistakes, bad choices, missed opportunities, strained relations, etc., all emerge from the two men, who are still strangers. When they learn they have little longer to live than the movie they're starring in, Chambers covertly composes his “Bucket List”, a symbolic inventory of everything a person wants to experience before they kick the… er, croak. You get the idea.
When Cole accidentally-on-purpose finds Chambers’ wish catalog, he persuades the grandfather that the two of them should traverse the world, money being disposable, in "Bucket List" fulfillment. Apparently, donating the tycoon's financial empire to noble civic causes in an effort to apply his legacy toward the "greater good," is self-aggrandizingly, not in the cards.
Preferably, to the chagrin of audiences, Chambers temporarily abandons his loving wife so he and Cole can selfishly begin their planetary geriatric quest. Director Rob Reiner lamentably tries to jump-start the proceedings with an incautiously executed skydiving episode that has Nicholson’s Cole dispensing prophetic airborne words of wisdom to his buddy, “Surrender to the void.” A concurring word of advice — do it. Potential enjoyment of the next 60-plus minutes should be enhanced immeasurably. Drag-racing Mustangs, an African Safari, the Egyptian Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, Hong Kong, the Taj Mahal, and Mount Everest all impotently follow suit.
At a merciful 97 minutes, the exotic location set pieces feel rushed, like Clark Griswold taking his family scarcely sightseeing at the Grand Canyon in the original Vacation (1983). Except that Chevy Chase really did look over the Colorado River. Bucket List takes cinematic shortcuts, instead using lavish —obviously computer generated— special effects to depict the spectacular sites. This reality serves to only reinforce the superficial nature of the thematic festivities. A check of the film's end credits to survey shooting locations, reveals production thanks only given to “THE CITY OF BEVERLY HILLS.” Breathtaking. So much for globetrotting enlightenment.
Like Ron Howard (Edtv, 1999, the lightweight deity-counterpart to The Truman Show), his baby-boomer directorial counterpart also reared in front of TV cameras, Rob Reiner has a breadth-long stranglehold on the would–be telegenic after-school-special meaning of life. However, he doesn't have the auteur’s talent for wringing in-depth, meaningful interpretation from its challenges and opportunities. The director has never been known for his heavy-hitting. Still, Reiner hasn’t made a decent movie for 13 years, The American President (1995) being his last respectable effort. The only observation more cogent than the speciousness of this latest outing is the state of his directorial career, which is rapidly repelling on the downside of Earth's highest mountain. The Bucket List may well be Reiner's nail in the coffin.