Just going through the emotions

Posted: January 11, 2008

Nothing wrong about a movie that says, Stop and smell the roses. Now, if only director Rob Reiner hadn't rubbed our noses in a bouquet of plastic blooms.

On the list of the 1,000 movies you should see before you die you will not find The Bucket List, which itemizes places to see and emotions to experience before terminal illness claims you.

In its rush to tick off every entry, Bucket catalogs places - the Pyramids, Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal - that have all the poetry of a souvenir postcard. It depicts emotions - denial, grief, acceptance - with performances that are faxed in from Hamville.

It's as if director Reiner thought that merely by pointing his camera at scenic places and scenic faces, his work would be done. Which is like assembling expensive ingredients and expecting them to cook themselves into a tasty meal.

There are few sorrier sights than beloved actors coasting on audience goodwill, which is what Reiner permits Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman to do here.

Nicholson is Edward Cole, health-care jillionaire, and borderline diabolical in his self-satisfaction. Morgan Freeman is Carter Chambers, mechanic and family man, near saintly in his selflessness.

Ordinarily, men such as Edward and Carter would not cross paths. But cancer is a great leveller. And Edward has amassed his jillions by decreeing "two patients to a room - no exceptions."

So there they are, the arrogant blusterer and the humble philosopher, with similar prognoses: Doomed to die within the year. Carter has a loving spouse and children to support him. Except for his personal assistant, nicely played by a deadpan Sean Hayes, Edward is alone.

When he spies Carter scribbling a list of things he wanted to do before he kicks the bucket - e.g., "go skydiving" - Edward has an idea. Furnishing his private jet and bottomless checkbook to help Carter achieve his goals, Edward effectively buys his companionship, estranging the mechanic from his wife of 46 years.

That a family man such as Carter would accept such a proposal is so ludicrously out of character that it insults the audience.

Still, there are pleasures to be had in watching the actors collect their paychecks. I would submit that Freeman's gravelly baritone and Nicholson's dancing eyebrows are wonders no less remarkable than the Pyramids and Taj Mahal.

Next time, please, let's have them in a movie that does not reduce notable performers and majestic places to brand names on a must-have list.


The Bucket List ** (out of four stars)

Directed by Rob Reiner. With Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman and Sean Hayes. Distributed by Warner Bros.

Running time: 1 hour, 38 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, sexual and medical candor)

Showing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl

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