Items on ‘Bucket List’ are surprising

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

I started working on my review of “The Bucket List” on the way to the theater. After all, I’d seen the coming attractions several times. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two quirky old geezers, both dying of cancer, who go off on a toot in a typical road/buddy movie.

Cast? Great. Fresh idea? Not so much.

But after seeing the movie, I had to throw away my notes and start all over, reminding myself once again to never believe what you see in a movie trailer – it’s like the picture on the outside of a frozen TV dinner.

The setup is simple. Jack and Morgan are a typical cinematic odd couple (one rich, one poor; one cynical, one reverent, et cetera) who meet in a hospital and discover they are both dying of cancer. They banter, they bond, they hit the road to indulge all their wildest dreams before kicking the bucket – hence the title.

Early on we learn that Justin Zackham’s script is far from the action-packed slapsticky film promised in the coming attractions. Instead, it actually provides a little space for contemplation of a tough-to-swallow subject. And even though it plods in spots, we get the message. Stop and smell the daisies, live life to the fullest, cherish those you love – the whole dreaded list of semi-schmaltz.

More cynical, younger filmgoers may refer to this movie as “Tales from the Crypt,” but the mostly-elderly-ladies audience at the theater I was at enjoyed the message, the story, and certainly the stars. Jack and Morgan, after all, were actually born just six weeks apart in 1937, and slipped into their roles like a pair of well-worn gloves.

Chubby little old Jack looks long in the tooth; the result, one would imagine, of smelling a good many roses himself along the way. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, never seems to change. Obviously, personal dignity is a preservative. I only wish Justin Zackham’s script had been a little more clever during the comedy banter scenes, and that they’d found more for Sean Hayes (straightfacing it as Jack’s P.A.) to do.

Personally, I was thankful that it didn’t turn into the frenetic skydiving, race-car-driving vaudeville promised in the trailers. In a perfect world, there should be room for movies that just say, “Be nice,” especially when they’re left in the hands of veteran director Rob Reiner.

In the next few weeks we’ll finish up reviewing the better films of last year – I still haven’t seen “There Will be Blood” or “The Kite Runner” – and then get down to the serious business of deciding what’s on our 2007 Ten Best list. Why? Hey, this is America. We love making lists. Even bucket lists.

  

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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