The spectacle of watching Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman horsing around together may be enough to entice audiences to check out "The Bucket List," but will this be enough to keep them in their seats? A movie star, by definition, is someone you are willing to watch in just about anything. If that's the case, "The Bucket List," a slapstick weepie cloddishy directed by Rob Reiner, is a bona fide star vehicle. But this vehicle really should be junked.
Carter Chambers (Freeman) is an easygoing auto mechanic who finds himself sharing a room in the same cancer ward with Edward Cole (Nicholson), a cranky billionaire entrepreneur who also happens to own the hospital. Why would Edward share a room in his own hospital? The ostensible reason is that he has mandated equal treatment for all patients, including himself. The real reason, of course, is that if these two polar opposites did not start out in the same room together, there would be no movie.
One swallow doesn't make a summer, and one contrivance doesn't necessarily make for a bad movie. But as the manipulations pile up, "The Bucket List" begins to defy human reason. Carter, you see, has jotted down a few modest things he'd like to do before he kicks the bucket, and Edward, who has conveniently also gone into remission and who even more conveniently has a private jet, ups the stakes. They go skydiving, race-car driving, encamp in luxury surroundings, visit the south of France, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, the Himalayas, and Hong Kong.
You might think that all these eye-popping locales would at least make for some good scenery, but the cinematography is cheesy and it's obvious that the dynamic duo have been digitally retrofitted into the landscape. In other words, Freeman and Nicholson didn't even get a dream vacation out of "The Bucket List." They've probably been to all those places anyway.
As the bald-pated, imperiously prickly Edward, Nicholson doesn't seem to mind that he's playing "Jack." This isn't an acting job for him, it's a field day. Reiner and his first-time screenwriter, Justin Zackham, leaven Edward's goofiness with a "serious" back story – he's been through four wives and is estranged from his daughter – but that's just garnish.
Freeman, on the other hand, has a more difficult time trying to live up to – or more exactly, live down – all this nonsense. His gravitas keeps getting in the way. Freeman's fitful stabs at real acting, as in Carter's wholly unconvincing argument with his wife (Beverly Todd) who sets up his world tour, only emphasize the silliness of the material.
Much has been made in the press over the years about the scarcity of Hollywood movies for older audiences. "The Bucket List," like "Grumpy Old Men" before it, is an attempt to tap a senior-citizen demographic while also feigning "universality." But just because a movie features two movie stars well into their AARP sunset is no reason to champion it. Even if the film becomes a commercial smash, you can bet it will only lead to more of the same pap.
It's no secret, except to Hollywood executives, that audiences over, say, 60, are famished for movies – good movies – about their generation. The notion that films only appeal to an under-30 demographic is a self-fulfilling prophecy generated by the studios, which are mostly run by boomers trying to recapture the Fountain of Youth. "The Bucket List" is a movie for oldsters that, paradoxically, looks as if it was made for 15-year-olds. If this is what is meant in Hollywood as "thinking outside the box," then it's time to get a new box. Grade: D+
• Rated PG-13 for language, including a sexual reference.