Starring: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes
Directed by: Rob Reiner (“Rumor Has It…”)
Written by: Justin Zackham (“Going Greek”)
Not even cinematic cornerstones like Jack Nicholson (“As Good as It Gets”) and Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) can save a film without enough substance. Between both of them, they hold four Oscar wins and 16 nominations, yet their illustrious careers are no match for first-time screenwriter Justin Zackham’s syrupy and ultimately empty movie “The Bucket List.”
As a lonely billionaire hospital owner who recently finds out he has cancer, Edward Cole (Nicholson) is frustrated when he is placed in the same room as cancer patient Carter Chambers (Freeman), a family-man who has spent his entire life providing for his children and wife by working as a mechanic.
You would think in his own hospital Edward could get a private room, but with a stringent “two beds to a room, no exceptions” policy preached by himself before he becomes sick, his personal assistant Thomas (Sean Hayes of “Will and Grace” fame) thinks it would be PR suicide if he was not following his own rules. Thus, he is stuck with a roommate.
Although their personality clash from the onset, Edward and Carter begin a friendship between card games, chemotherapy, and Carter’s history lessons, which Edward seems to get used to after a while.
When both find out they only have a year or less to live, their bond becomes stronger and the two decide they are not going to spend their final months in a hospital bed waiting to die. Instead, they create what Edward refers to as a “bucket list,” a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.”
Soon, we’re on a road trip with Edward and Carter through the countries of France, Egypt and India looking at majestic backdrops and pushing their physical limits to the extreme. Also on their list are skydiving, getting a tattoo, and driving a racecar. As the two cherish their final moments, Carter suggests Edward make amends with his estranged daughter. All the while, Carter’s wife Virginia (Beverly Todd) worries about her husband, who has never done anything spontaneous like this in his life.
There in lies one of the many problems with “Bucket List.” The trip never feels like a conjoined effort for both men. Despite the duo sharing a few life stories with each other, there is really no connection or chemistry between them. Blame Zackham’s inability to tie scenes together accurately on that. Most of the dialogue while they’re on their journey is from Carter, who cannot experience anything without verbalizing how much he knows on the topic. His cleverness – although harmless – wears on the nerves after a while.
Directed by Rob Reiner, whose career high points happened between 1986-1992 (“Stand by Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Misery” and “A Few Good Men”), “The Bucket List” has the occasional smile-inducing scene but falls short of anything more than a collection of pleasantries. It is the film equivalent of a pat on the back when what you are really looking for is one of those embraces that last forever.