'The Bucket List' is proof, if ever we needed it, that a great line-up does not a great film make. Directed by 'Spinal Tap's Rob Reiner, the film tells the story of two men, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, who discover they're dying of cancer and have one year to live.
The two old codgers sit down together to create a list detailing everything they want to do before they kick the bucket, hence the title. That's it in a nutshell, plenty of scope for a laughing-in-the-face-of-death buddy dramedy which, given the lads in question, could have been unforgettably entertaining but isn't.
Both actors slip too easily into familiar screen personas; Nicholson as his 'Something's Gotta Give' wise-cracking, womanising, krank and Freeman as the pious, wise man- come-narrator. (BTW what is with that? He's become Hollywood's numero uno raconteur; whether it's documentaries about marching penguins or Jim Carrey comedies about men with God complexes, Morgan's dulcet tones are ever present).
Nicholson plays Edward Cole, a greedy billionaire, who has made his money as a health care mogul before becoming a victim of his own cost-cutting regime and tagline, namely "I run hospitals not health spas. Two to a room, no exceptions." Once hospitalised he comes face to face with his allocated roommate, Freeman's character, Carter. This self-educated, humble, family-orientated mechanic is the antithesis of Cole and the two don't exactly click. Cole is furious to find himself in such meagre surroundings, made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that for fear of a PR nightmare, he can't upgrade to a lush single room. The two eventually chat, play cards and before long form an unlikely friendship. No surprises so far.
The hospital scenes at the beginning of the film are easy enough to buy; they're humane, original and dealing with some of the harsh realities of the 'Big C'. In addition there are two great actors to bring us through the delicate subject matter in an at times entertaining way. However no sooner are they discharged than the film's sense of reality goes out the door with them.
After this point, Reiner and co push the boat out too far and load it with so much artistic license that it sinks. His main characters have just been given a year to live and yet go about indulging in the most dangerous energy consuming activities possible, such as sky-diving and climbing mountains, defying the medical reality of their situation.
There are a few very good moments in the film courtesy of the King of the one-liners. Coming out of anyone else's mouth, some of Nicholson's outbursts could be construed as vulgar, cruel, harsh or all three. Lines like the advice he delivers, with a classic pained expression on his face, to his right hand man, played by former 'Will & Grace' star Sean Hayes: "Never waste a hard-on and... never trust a fart!"
The overall sense of 'The Bucket List' is of a movie coasting on a flimsy and annoyingly predictable premise when the subject matter and talent involved could have added up to a film worth remembering. The pace is slow: given the mere 97 minutes running time, it feels much longer.
Reiner, the former can't miss director, is fast gaining a reputation as the king of schmaltz and this one won't help. Justin Zackham's script, added to the direction from the 'When Harry Met' Sally helmer, fails its leading men. Their characters are not very likeable or easy to relate to and then when they come towards the end of their lives he lays it on thick and heavy. At that stage as much as you may want to care given the weighty subject, it's too little too late.
Both born in the summer of 1937, Freeman and Nicholson are two talented 70-year-olds who, just like their characters, are heading towards their twilight years. It would be rewarding to see them really tackle those life and death issues in a film but it wasn't to be here, instead they were presented with roles they've could've phoned in. What a waste.
Some might say it's the type of film you'd enjoy if you were older (and certainly in the US it's making a lot of money with over-forties audiences), more aware of your mortality or health. Does that mean you have to be a heavyweight boxer to like 'Rocky' or Italian to relate to 'The Godfather'? ...you get the picture. Art and film as an artform should relate to and have a clear message for one and all and there's more than one hole in this one. 'The Bucket List' gets two stars, one for each of the leading men and perhaps a new title, a typo has suggested 'The Bucket Lost'.