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Movie Review: The Bucket List

The Bucket List
Directed by Rob Reiner
Written by Justin Zackham
Warner Bros., 2007

It might have been easier to enjoy The Bucket List at a different time of the year, maybe as a summer diversion.  As it is, the limited release date at the end of 2007 before it went wide this weekend smelled too much like “Give me the Oscar” before I even laid eyes on it.  When you put two actors like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in the same movie and the issue is death, it seems tailor-made for awards consideration and it’s hard to look past anything else.

That is, however, unfair.  Oscar-pandering has nothing to do with the movie itself, really.  It has everything to do with the studio and their marketing department.  And I think The Bucket List may have gotten some backlash due to this obvious play for attention, and some critics even put it on their worst lists.  I’m not saying that I’m about to give a great review to this movie, but I am going to give it a fair shake.

Edward Cole (Nicholson) is a wealthy hospital owner who starts coughing up blood one day and discovers he has cancer.  Due to his own rule about “two beds in a room, no exceptions,” he has an initially unwanted roommate, Carter Chambers (Freeman), also diagnosed with the deadly disease.  Cole has had a roller-coaster life of wealth and wives, while Chambers is a woulda-coulda-shoulda-been who got saddled with marriage and kids at an early age and had to be an auto mechanic his whole life.  His marriage to Virginia (Beverly Todd) at this point has entered a bit of a rough spot.

The cancer, as related by Dr. Hollins (Rob Morrow), will likely kill the pair within a year.  Carter starts writing a “bucket list,” where he lists the things he’d like to do before he dies, merely thinking in the hypothetical.  But Cole, who eventually warms to Carter, convinces him to actually go through with these things.  He’s got the money, so a trip around the world doing crazy things is in order.

So the two venture out and learn things about themselves and try to make things right before they die.  Helping Cole out is his assistant, Thomas (Sean Hayes), who pops up to make funnies with his boss.

At first, there’s stuff in here that I could do without.  You know, trailer-made stuff like skydiving and Morgan Freeman yelling, “I hate your rotten guts!”  And Freeman narrates, which seems to be yet another kind of pandering, the “echoes of Shawshank” ploy.  He even has a line ripped right out of Shawshank about “when he first lays eyes” on Cole.  But when they start globetrotting and getting deeper into their unresolved issues, making the movie about conversation rather than doing crazy wild stuff, the movie becomes a lot better, and no surprise, Nicholson and Freeman are up to the task.

Reiner has had a tremendous losing streak after 1995’s The American President.  And while I wouldn’t say this is a big breakthrough for him, it puts him closer back on track.

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