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The Bucket List (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

The Bucket List

The Bucket List


Starring Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd, Rob Morrow, Alfonso Freeman, Rowena King, Noel Gugliemi and Jennifer Defrancisco.

Screenplay by Justin Zackham.

Directed by Rob Reiner.

Distributed by Warner Brothers.  98 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Terminal cancer is usually not the catalyst for a buddy comedy.  Chemo and spitting up blood just isn’t funny.

Yet, though it is far from a perfect film, The Bucket List kicks off from this somber premise and mostly succeeds in mixing humor, pathos and wish-fulfillment into a predictable but mostly satisfying concoction.

It is worth seeing simply because for the first time, two of the best actors alive are allowed to riff off of each other.

Granted, Nicholson is slightly on autopilot here, occasionally falling back on such staples as the shit-eating grin, the dark glasses and the raised eyebrows.  (Also, is it me or is it getting a little disturbing how many of Jack Nicholson’s roles lately are about men facing their own mortality?  I mean, I know he’s aging, but he’s Jack Nicholson, for chrissakes…  He is best as a force of nature, not someone tied down by it.)  However, even when he’s going through the motions, Nicholson is always intriguing.

Nicholson plays Edwin, a billionaire who has made his fortune by resurrecting dying hospitals with cost-cutting and fiscal responsibility.  Therefore, when he himself gets sick, he has to share a hospital room.  Really, despite any supposed PR hits that Edwin’s assistant — nicely underplayed by Will & Grace vet Sean Hayes — insists would come because Edwin wants his own room despite the fact that he insists others share don’t really matter.  Edwin would get his own room — no questions asked.  He owns the place.

However, we’ll allow the filmmakers this little conceit, after all it is necessary to allow Edwin to meet Carter.  Morgan Freeman plays Carter — an aging family man who has smoked his entire life and worked hard as an auto mechanic to provide for his large brood, giving up his own dreams in the process.

At first they hate each other, but eventually with the shared death sentence, these two very different men start to bond and talk about their lives.

Eventually, they make a “bucket list” — a group of experiences that they wanted to have before they kick the bucket.  They both realize that they have a little time and Edwin has a lot of money, so they jet off on his plane to do everything they had always wanted to.

Therefore they skydive, race cars, visit the French Riviera and Himalayas and try to forget that they have months to live.  However, of course that realization is always in the background, giving even the lightest moments an air of pathos — which becomes a tiny bit overwhelming in the obviously downbeat ending.

The Bucket List is a little bit of a bounce-back for director Rob Reiner.  Not that he has that much to do — his stars carry all the really heavy baggage.  However, even if Reiner’s workmanlike job here is not going to make anyone forget some of his early classics (When Harry Met Sally, This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, A Few Good Men) at least this new film and his last flawed-but-watchable movie Rumor Has It seem to be showing him to be on a bit of an upswing after the dregs of the last decade or so (North, Alex & Emma, The Story of Us, Ghosts of Mississippi).

None of what happens is terribly surprising, though most of it is pleasant.  In fact the only surprise in the film is which man dies first — and that is only a surprise because the movie cheats a little, with a broad hint early on that the other guy kicks first.

The Bucket List is manipulative and rather hard to believe — and yet at the same time it worked for me.  Sometimes you just have to give yourself in to the story or not.  As long as you can get over being played like a violin, you probably will like The Bucket List.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 11, 2008.

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