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Movie Review: The Bucket List

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The Bucket List is a mash-up of star power, comedy, and pathos. Unfortunately, it takes broad swipes and connects mostly with empty air. Judging by the crowded theater I saw this in, I was in the minority. There is no denying that the film contains laughs, tugs at the heartstrings, and definitely benefits from strong chemistry between the two leads. Seriously, how can you go completely wrong when you have Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman? With two of the finest actors to ever grace the screen, you are bound to have something watchable. It is just a shame that the plot of the movie fails to live up to what the leads are able to provide.

The story concerns two older men, Edward Cole and Carter Chambers (Nicholson and Freeman), who bond over their shared fate of cancer, destined to cut their lives short. What follows is a fairy tale as we follow them on a journey across the world, attempting to fulfill all of the items written on their mutual bucket list (a list of things to do prior to kicking the bucket, get it?). So, off they go, jet-setting around the globe doing all the things they never got around to — you know, skydiving, racing muscle cars, visiting the Taj Mahal, seeing the Himalayas, and assorted other things.

Oh yes, introductions should be made. If you have seen the ads (and who hasn't), you will know that these two could not be more different if they tried. Cole is a self-centered hospital administrator who has spent his life making money at the cost of his humanity, while Carter is a family man who has made a living as a mechanic and seems to be filled with knowledge on just about everything plus the added weight of lifelong regrets. While their relationship may start off a little rocky, they quickly begin to see the other side of the coin, what their lives have been missing, in each other.

The Bucket List does offer some laughs, which I believe has everything to do with the skills of the actors as opposed to the quality of the script. The same can be said for the more heartwarming moments. The problems lie in the overall content and structure of the film. There is nothing special to the film; it is completely reliant on the power of the stars.

The first thing that bugged me was the opening narration from Morgan Freeman, as Carter, extolling the virtues of Nicholson's Cole. It bugged me more as the film moved along. Here is a hard working man with a loving family virtually fawning over a man with no redeeming values. Quite irritating. Even as we moved towards his eventual change of heart, nothing felt genuine; Cole was still not a terribly nice guy. To top it off, we get another voice-over from Carter singing praises to a dead rich white guy.

Beyond that issue, The Bucket List is all surface and no substance. There is very little beneath the comic veneer that covers everything in a slick, glossy finish. If you scratch it away you will discover a film that doesn't want you to do any digging. When you have Nicholson and Freeman in the lead roles it is easier to get away with lack of substance as those two can bring gravitas to a phone book reading. You would never guess that these two were struggling with inoperable cancer. The approach to their condition seemed overly simplistic, leading to dialogue that never really digs into their situation. I know this is a comedy, but comedy without heart is comedy without resonance. I did not feel these characters.

Despite the lack of depth and issues with the point of view (Cole singing the praises of Carter would have been much more satisfying), watching Freeman and Nicholson do their thing was quite entertaining. They were clearly having a blast making this movie. Granted, they seem to be playing a variation on a theme; their characters seem very familiar, almost as if they were just being themselves. Their chemistry is the main reason that this is enjoyable at all.

Bottom line. Yes, I laughed. Yes, I even got a touch misty. Despite those facts, I cannot say that I truly "felt" anything. Nicholson and Freeman deliver the best they are able to, but still the film falls flat in the end. The feel is more of a DVD rental than a big screen must-see.

Mildly Recommended.

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