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Kick The Bucket List to the Curb

  • Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2007 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Kick <i>The Bucket List</i> to the Curb

DVD Release Date:  June 10, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  January 11, 2008 (wide)
Rating:  PG-13 (for language, including a sexual reference)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  97 min.
Director:  Rob Reiner
Actors:  Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Rob Morrow, Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd

“Find the joy in your life.” That’s the bottom-line message of director Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List, delivered by one of two characters who are facing death and trying to find meaning in their existence. But the film reflects another saying as well:  “Everything old is new again.”

In 1991, Hollywood gave us The Doctor, a William Hurt vehicle in which the title character was forced to become a patient—and a better person. That same year, Doc Hollywood and Regarding Henry used health crises and cultural fish-out-of-water scenarios as catalysts for their close-minded protagonists to gain a deeper appreciation for others. Also in 1991, actor Morgan Freeman appeared on-screen in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, while Jack Nicholson filmed an Oscar-nominated performance in Reiner’s A Few Good Men, released the following year. Both men would go on to win Oscars for subsequent roles—Freeman for supporting work in Million Dollar Baby, and Nicholson for the lead performance in As Good as It Gets.

Sixteen years later, The Bucket List represents a regression for these two great actors, who give the same type of performance they’ve given many times before—Nicholson loud and in-your-face, Freeman gentle and wise—in a Hollywood production that rehashes the Yuppie dramas of 1991 for the older set.

Nicholson plays Edward Cole, a hospital executive who pads his profits by insisting that every room in his hospital have two beds. (“I run hospitals, not health spas,” he tells a skeptical review panel.) But when Cole falls ill and winds up rooming with Chambers, he’s forced to live under the very conditions he’s imposed on others. Not even his loyal assistant (Sean Hayes) can undo the policy Cole has so proudly insisted upon.

Nicholson’s bluster takes over the film as Cole hollers, barks orders and curses at anyone who will listen to him. Chambers, a laid-back mechanic and devoted family man, is the perfect foil for Cole’s vulgar rants. But when both men learn they are terminally ill, the proceedings take a turn toward the maudlin. Chambers reluctantly shares his “bucket list”—things to do before he dies—with Cole, who adds his own items and bankrolls the men’s trips across the globe.

Chambers enters into the journey with some reluctance, having demanded “time away” from his persistent wife (Beverly Todd). Married to the only woman he’s ever been intimate with (“That’s got to be on the list” insists the four-times-married Cole, eager to see Chambers bed other women), Chambers is a man of faith with a loving family. His wife says a powerful pre-meal prayer to the “Father” late in the film, and the family is shown with heads bowed in the waiting room during Chambers’ surgery. But as with Hurt’s title character in The Doctor, who discovers a vacuous form of spirituality, Chambers’ beliefs are left rather vague.

For Christian viewers looking to read their own faith into Chambers’ character, there’s less here than meets the eye. They’ll also have to look past Cole’s vulgarity, profanity and dim view of marriage to get to the ultimate lesson. Those in a forgiving mood may leave the theater entertained, but many will find Cole’s moral awakening thin gruel to justify depictions of his hedonism—which, admittedly, could’ve been a whole lot worse—throughout the film.

When given the chance to explain his faith to Cole, Chambers makes a case for the Creator, but the film never gets much more specific, settling for talk about how we’re all “streams … flowing into rivers … into heaven”—not much more orthodox a sentiment than Hurt’s New-Age spirituality in The Doctor.

It’s a pat answer for a pat film, with two great actors delivering familiar performances (not bad performances, but nothing we haven’t seen before) in a movie that has no surprises. It’s all very pleasantly predictable. On a cinematic level, it’s also flat. Although it becomes a travelogue of sorts, as the men jet around the globe, the movie never captures the slightest glimmer of awe and majesty that the characters constantly speak about. The Bucket List is a big-budget film with a very small-screen look. Its most inventive shot—a pair of TV-watching spectacles that give Nicholson’s eyes the appearance of a bug—is just a drop in this bucket of pablum that passes for entertainment.

If pablum’s your thing, this is the movie for you. If not, there are more nourishing choices available.

Questions? Concerns? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@earthlink.net.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain several times; profanity; discussion of suicide; crude references to bodily functions.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Smoking; drinking.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Cole speaks favorably of orgies; a penis reference; a stewardess exits a private encounter with Edward Cole, buttoning her blouse.
  • Marriage:  Cole has been married four times and speaks poorly of his previous wives; Chambers is struggling in his marriage, but has always been faithful to his wife.
  • Violence/Disturbing Imagery:  A man coughs up blood; vomiting; a surgical scar on a man’s shaved head; blood stain on a man’s shirt.
  • Religion:  Positive portrayal of family prayer and grace before a meal; an Egyptian myth about what it takes to get into heaven.