The Bucket List 

Two stars (PG-13)

I don’t want to be mean here. The Bucket List deals with two terminally ill men who set out to accomplish the items on their “things to do before dying” list. The movie will certainly give comfort to a lot of people and I’m all for that. My concern is that some of those folks may take my criticism of the film as criticism of them, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Just because you like a movie that I believe to be emotionally manipulative drivel doesn’t mean I think you’re a chump. Hell, I had a great time watching The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, which some critics dismissed as formulaic and unconvincing. Each to his own.

All right. Enough with the disclaimer, on with the review. The Bucket List is formulaic, unconvincing, emotionally manipulative drivel. Yes, there are satisfying moments scattered about, but most of the movie is shockingly lame, especially given the talents involved.

The film is directed by Rob Reiner, who brought us This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride and Misery. Of course, he also was the man behind North and The Story of Us. The Bucket List stars Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, two of my favorite actors. Alas, magic doesn’t happen. Freeman is erudite and noble, as usual, but this is a role he could do in his sleep. Nicholson plays his character big and sloppy, sputtering and wheezing and working those eyebrows like crazy. That may be appropriate to the part, but it comes off as lazy and indulgent.

The setup: Mega-rich Edward Cole (Nicholson) convinces auto mechanic Carter Chambers (Freeman) to take off on a no-holds-barred trip all over the planet to take care of their respective bucket lists. Will and Grace veteran Sean Hayes plays Cole’s long-suffering assistant. I think Hayes is shooting for the kind of supportive disdain John Gielgud exhibited in Arthur, but he simply comes off as constipated. Beverly Todd appears as Chambers’ wife, who objects to the trip because she just doesn’t understand. Silly wife.

So the boys take off on Cole’s super-plane for high adventure all around the world. They go to the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Himalayas, the ... well, actually they go in front of a green screen so that the various landmarks and exotic locales can appear behind them. The special effects are not the least bit special — I haven’t seen pasted-in backdrops look so phony since Bob Hope and Bing Crosby did the last of their road comedies. And while I’m bitching, I’d like to note that the noise level of the wind prevents skydivers from having conversations while in freefall. Geez.

The crappy special effects would be easy to dismiss if the movie was compelling, but Justin Zackham’s script is just a blend of sitcom gags and mawkish exchanges. Nicholson and Freeman make some of the material work, but between the weak screenplay and the lead actors playing overly familiar characters, The Bucket List keeps collapsing on itself. More depressing than the subject matter is watching such talented people trying to sell hooey like this.

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