Kick the ‘Bucket’
by Scott Mantz

“The Bucket List”
Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman
Directed by Rob Reiner

‘Til death do they part! Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman go out with guns a-blazing in “The Bucket List”

If I knew that I had just 6 months left to live, and I had to make a list of all the things that I wanted to do before I died, watching “The Bucket List” would not be one of them.  Granted, I say that now, after I already spent 97 minutes watching the darn thing, but what can I say – we all have our regrets.

To be fair, “The Bucket List” is not the worst movie I’ve ever seen – far from it, actually – but it’s definitely one of the most calculated and contrived.  That’s because it checks off every life-affirming cliché in the book in an effort to make it as commercially appealing to older moviegoers as possible.  The problem is, it reeks of manipulation and doesn’t ring true for a New York minute.

But there’s something to be said about watching great actors do their thing, even if the “thing” they have to work with is beneath them.  In this case, Oscar-winners Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman perform a minor miracle by making the cheesy screenplay (written by Justin Zackham) sound better than it really is, and their “Odd Couple” chemistry is about the only thing the movie has going for it.

Nicholson plays Edward Cole, a successful healthcare mogul with a trail of ex-wives, a lavish lifestyle and an affinity for gourmet coffee.  Freeman plays Carter Chambers, a lifelong auto mechanic with a devoted wife, a big family and an encyclopedic knowledge of useless information.  Both men have nothing in common, except for one thing – they’re dying.

With the clock ticking away, they decide to make a “bucket list” – a list of all the things that they want to do before they “kick the bucket.”  Against doctor’s orders, they check out of the hospital and hit the road for the adventure of a lifetime.  But while crossing items off their list, they gain a deeper understanding of what really makes life worth living – even if it’s short.

If that sounds deep, don’t be fooled – “The Bucket List” isn’t that profound.  It isn’t that interesting either, especially during the first 40 minutes, when Nicholson and Freeman are confined to their hospital room.  But when they finally break out for a world tour that takes them to the South of France, Egypt, India and China, the action picks up – and so do the “living life to the fullest” clichés.

Jack Nicholson goes down the surly, sarcastic “Something’s Gotta Give”/“As Good as it Gets” road yet again, while Morgan Freeman is effectively endearing as his insightful opposite (complete with his now trademark voiceover).  But Sean Hayes (TV’s “Will & Grace”) barely registers, since he does nothing to elevate his underdeveloped role as Nicholson’s punching bag of an assistant.

For a movie that’s supposed to be about taking chances, “The Bucket List” plays it way too safe.  Director Rob Reiner – who directed “When Harry Met Sally…” and worked with Nicholson before on “A Few Good Men” – just seems to be coasting along, and it shows.  The characters played by Nicholson and Freeman may be terminal, but as for the movie itself…well, it’s just terrible.