The Bucket List
As Rob Reiner should know better and Jack Nicholson should know better and Morgan Freeman should know better, what you have here is a film which has to make you ask: how come they didn’t? You’d think one, at least, would say somewhere along the line: ‘Thanks, but if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll count myself out of this lazy and condescending package.’ I don’t get it, but at least I napped though a sizeable chunk in the middle. Yes, I did feel cross at myself when I woke up, although only when I realised there was still some way to go.
The Bucket List, with its themes of opposites bonding as buddies, learning there is more to life than money, and laughing in the face of death (ha, ha), may not strike you as especially original, possibly because they are not. Still, don’t let that alone stop you, as there is much, much more. There is a feast of things to stop you here. A banquet, in fact!
Nicholson plays Cole, a greedy corporate billionaire who has put wealth before everything, while Freeman is Carter, a lowly car mechanic who has a loving family and knows what it is to bring joy to others blah-de-blah. Both men are dying and meet when forced to share a hospital room. We aren’t told what they are dying of, but can assume it’s lung cancer as we’ve seen Cole cough blood and Carter drop his cigarette when he takes the call from his doctor. These have to be clues.
They both have just months to live and decide to compile a list of things they’d like to do before they kick the bucket. This list includes skydiving, car racing, getting a tattoo, laughing until they cry and seeing the pyramids but not, sadly, putting a halt to this tired old nonsense right now and going off for a round of golf. Cole is the rampaging one whose thick neck often thrusts and bulges with rage, while Carter is stately, pious and wise. In other words, Jack gets a Jack part doing his Jack schtick while Morgan gets a Morgan one doing his Morgan schtick. Morgan even narrates, Shawshank Redemption-style. It might have been more interesting to have, at least, cast them the other way round.
The wonder is that Rob Reiner (remember, he directed Spinal Tap — Spinal Tap! — as well as Stand By Me and When Harry Met Sally) has made not just a bad film, but such an atrociously insulting bad film. Much of the globetrotting has been very obviously blue-screened and looks about as real as a travel poster. Otherwise, we know we are in France because of all the old men playing boules. The bucket list itself, which is written on an A4 piece of yellow paper, is torn up in one scene but reappears intact a couple of scenes later. And while I’m no oncologist — except on Monday mornings — I do think I have every right to wonder why two men in the final stages of lung cancer are able to travel the world and ascend the Himalayas without nurses, drips, oxygen or even appearing short of breath. This is never about two old blokes coming nose-to-nose with their own mortality. It is only ever about Nicholson and Freeman pretending to have cancer.
Although putatively heart-warming stuff — and I have a heart that cries out to be warmed — this is anything but. It’s banal, sentimental — ‘he died with his eyes closed, but his heart open’ — and involves a subplot to do with Cole’s estranged daughter which may very well make you puke. As for the comedy, an example: ‘I’ve had baths that were deeper than you.’ This, too, may not strike you as particularly original, probably because it’s not. As it happens, Carter and Cole do laugh until they cry when they discover that Cole’s favourite, exclusive coffee relies on the beans being excreted by tree cats. It’s just a very expensive form of s**t, we’re told, but not nearly as much as the one before our eyes. I would not urge you to see this film, but should it tempt you, for whatever reason, substitute the ‘b’ in bucket for an ‘f’ and think that. Quick.