January 17, 2008

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The Bucket List (PG-13)
Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman phone in their respective shticks (eyebrowy wise-guy for Nicholson, sincere voice of reason for Freeman) in the schmaltzy The Bucket List, a movie that manages to be tolerable in spite of itself and because of its talent.

Edward Cole (Nicholson) is a niceties-be-damned filthy rich CEO of a company that privatizes hospitals and makes them more profitable (in large part by understaffing them and removing many of the human comforts). Carter Chambers (Freeman) is a good father and hard worker who dreamed of being a history professor but instead worked away as a mechanic to put his kids through college. Both men find out at roughly the same time that they are terminally ill and end up roommates in the hospital. While passing the time between chemotherapy sessions, Carter explains to Edward the idea of a bucket list — all the things he’d like to do before he kicked the bucket. Carter shrugs off these undone things as another of life’s disappointments but Edward urges him to keep building the list. His money could facilitate a trip to the world’s wonders and it would give them both something to do rather than sit in the hospital for their remaining months.

Naturally, Carter’s wife (Beverly Todd) doesn’t like the idea of his running away during his remaining time, causing Edward to occasionally rethink the decision. Meanwhile, Carter can’t resist urging Edward to fix some of the problems in his own family life.

There isn’t much to most of the scenes in The Bucket List except for Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman being Morgan Freeman. He provides the emotional narration while Nicholson gets the sassy comments about aging or illness. Both men get a chance to look a bit misty-eyed and both get a chance to at least look like they’re engaging in some nifty stunts. I suspect that someone thought this movie (which was released to theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas) had a Venus-like potential to earn these actors some gimme award-season buzz. I haven’t heard any and this movie doesn’t even rise to the relatively weak standards of Peter O’Toole’s performance in Venus. Both Nicholson and Freeman are likeable but likeability is all the movie has going for it. And even that kind of good will isn’t enough to save it from its squishier, clichéd instincts. C

Rated PG-13 for language, including a sexual reference. Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Justin Zackham, The Bucket List is an hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.