The Bucket List (2007) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and a sexual reference
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd, Rob Morrow, Alfonso Freeman
Director: Rob Reiner

Screenplay: Justin Zackham
Review published January 11, 2008

Rob Reiner (Rumor Has It, Alex & Emma) makes a directorial comeback, thanks to the help of two of the finest veteran actors in the business.  The Bucket List follows two men diagnosed with terminal cancer who become good friends while staying in the same hospital room.  Carter Chambers (Freeman, Gone Baby Gone) is an auto mechanic who decides to write up a list of things he would like to do before kicking the bucket (aka "The Bucket List"), and though reluctant to share, the list inspires his fellow cancer victim, billionaire Edward Cole (Nicholson, The Departed), to make their last days on Earth their best.  The two soon head out for one final adventure, but the pressures of illness, the trip, and the family Carter has behind are some of the obstacles to making their dreams come true.

I think one's enjoyment of The Bucket List will most likely be fueled by one's enjoyment for the work of Jack Nicholson, and to a lesser extent, Morgan Freeman, especially in how they interact with one another on the screen.  The two actors are just engaging enough to overcome most of the story manipulations inherent in the Justin Zackham (Going Greek) script, and Reiner knows well enough to let the actors act without getting in the way, saving the missteps for those moments in between the dialogue where his more schmaltzy inclinations take over.

The Bucket List is a sentimental film, which automatically means that most critics will hate it while most audiences will love it.  I'm not sure why sentimental films are jeered at so incessantly by critics, as it is a well-done example of the genre that should affect those predisposed to enjoying tales of the heart, but I won't be one of them.  Despite the manufactured characters and their sometimes less-than-believable motivations, I still enjoyed the film for its moments of humor, grace, and even found myself moved from time to time.  I enjoyed the contrast between a man who has done all of the big things but never stopped to smell the roses and a man who has done all of the small things right but never got to fulfill any of his big dreams.

With solid repartee, beautiful cinematography, moments of good humor as well as drama, and some interesting developments along the way, The Bucket List will probably please most viewers who aren't trying to fight the simple tale every step of the way.  Occasionally, Reiner lays it on just a little thick, but for the sake of the entertainment value, all is forgiven.  Watching Freeman and Nicholson at the top of their game should be enough to compensate for whatever saccharine elements one can point to in the delivery.  I know those moments are there, and yet, the film moved me nonetheless.  Despite being a film about the inevitability of one's mortality, it's a refreshingly philosophical comedy that encourages living life to the fullest extent, never letting a precious day go to waste.

Qwipster's rating:

2008 Vince Leo