The Bucket List pairs two of Hollywood’s most venerable elderly actors together in a film that seems to want to be a globe-trotting version of Grumpy Old Men, but ends up being more of muddled, sappy, mess.
Directed by Rob Reiner, who ought to know better, it tells the story of two old men diagnosed with terminal cancer. Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is a wealthy, confirmed bachelor hospital owner and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) is a middle class car mechanic with a big family and a longtime marriage. The film is supposed to be about the way they choose to spend their final days doing all the things they never got to do when they were young, but it wastes a good third of its running time hanging out in the hospital with Edward and Carter as they receive their initial diagnosis and come to grips with it. By the time the movie gets around to its titular Bucket List, you’ll have long since been bored with it.
A Bucket List by the way, is a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. Once the movie finally gets around to having Edward and Carter make it, it picks up some steam. Edward’s list is composed mostly of extreme sports and kissing beautiful women. Carter’s list seems to be about making a spiritual journey. For instance, Edward wants to skydive while Carter wants to experience a moment of true majesty. They decide to do everything together, and so with less than forty-give minutes to go in the movie Carter ditches his wife, hops on Edward’s plane, and starts carousing his way around the world with a tracheotomy tube hanging out of his neck.
Watching Carter and Edward jet set is entertaining, but there’s just not enough of it. Reiner squanders so much of the movie in that opening thirty or more minutes of hospital time that the meat of it feels rushed. The really frustrating thing about it is that those thirty minutes could have easily been boiled down to about ten, without the film losing anything. Since the real heart of the story is crammed into such a disproportionately small section, I never felt like I got a feel for these characters or what they were going through, and the obstacles in their way seem easily overcome and/or ignored. For a movie about such heady subjects The Bucket List lacks any real umpf, and while Freeman and Nicholson have their moments, they’re mostly going through the motions.
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