Sunday, December 23, 2007

"The Bucket List" -- * *

In recent weeks/months, the trailer for Rob Reiner's "The Bucket List" has been a primary object of derision for film snobs everywhere. Most of my friends who know anything about film have commented to me that they're anticipating the film's release with dread. In the midst of all this shit-talking, I, almost defiantly, was its lone ardent defender. "It could be good," I said. "Sure, it looks super sentimental, but it has potential to be fairly entertaining and I'll watch Nicholson in literally anything." Well, I was wrong. "The Bucket List" is not entertaining. Not at all. Then again, it's not as bad as early reviews have indicated either. Despite the star power of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, it's a rather dull, mediocre, schmaltzy TV-movie that never cranks the sentiment up to vomit-inducing levels, but is content to follow its formula blandly to the end.

For those who've somehow managed to avoid the trailer (it's been attached to nearly everything I've seen in the last two months), "Bucket" follows two cancer-stricken geezers (Nicholson and Freeman, playing smirking wisecracking white guy, and noble narrating black man, respectively) who, facing death, decide to make a list of things they want to do before they die-- the titular "bucket list"-- and, using millionaire Nicholson's money, actually do them. This list includes such activities as going to the Taj Mahal, sky-diving, "laughing till we cry," and kissing the most beautiful girl in the world... actually, I take back the "not vomit-inducing" comment on that last one. I won't spoil it, but you'd have to be blind to not roll your eyes.

Despite the selling of it as a heart-warming comedy emphasizing the central conceit, the actual partaking in the list's activities only takes up the middle half-hour of the 90 minute running time. The film is most emphatically NOT a comedy, but rather a mawkish drama, with the first 30 minutes a fairly depressing series of sequences of the two men in a hospital recoiling in pain, and the last 30 minutes made up of phony uplift and imparting hackneyed life lessons (the most prominent one apparently being, if you're dying, try to get a millionaire as your hospital roommate). And even though this isn't a movie built on surprises, the revealing of the ending of the film in literally the first line of dialogue seems completely unnecessary.

The level of tedium and sentimentality would be a problem no matter what, but it's even moreso due to the fact that nothing here feels anything close to reality, nor do these guys seem like real human beings. Though Nicholson is the asset most closely resembling a reason to watch this thing, he's still just doing his same old schtick, only doing it while coughing up blood. Freeman is boring as usual, and completely on auto-pilot (shock!). Sean Hayes shows up to make the most out of his poorly-written role as Nicholson's assistant, and he seems to be the only one here trying to give a real performance; it's a crap part, but at least he infuses it with some life. Rob Morrow appears (invoking the question, 'Where the fuck has Rob Morrow been?') in a handful of scenes as the stock role of an inattentive doctor; This part could've been filled by a paid extra, and it's sad to see what the actor's doing for work these days.

It's become a cliche by now to complain about how far Rob Reiner has sunk. Yeah, yeah, he directed some of the greatest comedies of all time ("When Harry Met Sally" and "This is Spinal Tap"), but after "North," "Alex & Emma" and countless others, we just need to stop complaining and accept this is the kind of director he's become. "The Bucket List" isn't torturous to sit though-- it's fine, it's whatever, it's meh-- but it's certainly not worth your time. It'll play like catnip to the elderly moviegoers who eat up these sorts of bullshit feel-gooderies, but I can't imagine many other saps going for it.

"The Bucket List," inexplicably, opens in limited release on 16 screens on Christmas Day (i.e.: this Tuesday) and nationwide on Friday, January 11th.

NOTE: Speaking of emotional string-pullers, it just occurred to me I never got around to writing a review proper for "The Kite Runner." Since it's already dying a quick death at the box office, and I have about five reviews on the horizon in the next 2-3 days, I don't see the need to write one for "Kite" at this point. But suffice it to say, I thought it was coldly calculated, manipulative bullshit. While much of the blame might be laid upon the book, it's filled with ridiculous coincidences, ludicrous story turns, a bombastic score, the most G-rated depiction of an anal rape of a child you'll ever see, a phony sense of importance/relevance, convenient re-appearing villains, and just flat-out poor direction. People seem to be loving the shit out of this, so hey, what do I know, but you couldn't pay me to watch this thing a second time.


Blogger Alison said...

Great review. Just one note - Rob Morrow has been starring in a prime time tv show for the past 3 years. He can't be doing this to put bread on the table. I guess that means he liked the script, which in a way is almost worse.

4:42 AM  

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