Rob Reiner has surfaced again, directing arguably two of the most accomplished actors of our time: Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The vehicle: The Bucket List, a comedy drama that tries to add a new twist to the Odd Couple scenario. Instead of just throwing together two incompatible people, as so many movies have already done, the setup is to put two dying, disparate men together to partake in their unfulfilled fantasies.
It all starts when Edward Cole (Nicholson) finds himself sharing a cramped hospital room with Carter Chambers (Freeman) in own of his very own hospitals. Cole, it turns out, is a ruthless billionaire who makes his money buying failing medical facilities and returning them to profitability (done by firings, cramped living spaces and crummy food). Chambers is a simple auto-mechanic with a penchant for knowing all the useless knowledge one could hope to know (remember Ken Jennings?). What they have in common is that both have incurable cancer and a finite amount of time left on the planet. To make the most out of it, they create a list – The Bucket List – of things to do before they kick the bucket. It includes simple entries like:
- laugh til you cry
- drive a Shelby Mustang
- get a tattoo
- help a complete stranger for the good
It also includes more robust entries like:
- visit the Taj Mahal
- see Rome
- hunt lions in Africa
- see the pyramids
- climb Mt. Everest
During these interludes, both share intimate knowledge of the their lives with one another, each offering their own thoughts and views to the others’ dilemma. One or two are thought provoking, but mostly they’re put in place to remind us that The Bucket List is more than just a movie about two old guys living it up as they travel all over the globe. This is ultimately where the movie becomes unglued. Reiner should have set the childish antics and globetrotting as the aside to the personal struggle these guys and their families were experiencing.
This however, doesn’t take away from the strong performances by the stars. Sean Hayes (whom I couldn’t stand in Will & Grace) has a few remarkable scenes as Cole’s personal assistant Thomas. But obviously this film is really the Jack & Morgan show and they don’t fail to deliver. Nicholson is always a great crotchety wise-ass and Freeman is always the stalwart diplomat. They’re not quite as good as Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, but they’re good nonetheless. From what I can tell this was the first movie that stars both men and from my point of view it was long overdue.
So even though The Bucket List doesn’t really force us to face our mortality in quite the manner it means to, it does manage to drive home the idea that there are plenty of things to get done before the reaper comes a knockin’. From the words of another fantastic Freeman character, Andy Dufresne (from The Shawshank Redemption): “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”