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(2007) (Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: Two terminally ill men decide to live life to the fullest in the short amount of time they have left.
Edward Cole (JACK NICHOLSON) is a successful businessman whose practical approach at privatizing and then running hospitals has made him fabulously rich. Yet, he comes to regret his steadfast and no-exceptions "two beds and two patients per room" rule when he ends up hospitalized due to a serious illness. It's a point repeated with more than a touch of irony by his long-suffering but highly efficient personal assistant, Thomas (SEAN HAYES), when Edward ends up sharing a room with auto mechanic and trivia expert Carter Chambers (MORGAN FREEMAN).

He's also been hospitalized due to a life-threatening illness, a development not lost on his wife of many decades, Virginia (BEVERLY TODD). Carter is amused by Edward's tantrums and antisocial behavior, but the two soon become fast friends due to sharing similar medical experiences. Thus, when both receive news that they only have months to live, Edward tries to convince Carter that he should not only resurrect his previously discarded "bucket list" -- things you'd do before "kicking the bucket" -- but also expand upon it so that they go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

From that point on, and as they travel around the world and experience things they've always wanted to do, they must contend not only with their respective illness and pending mortality, but also other matters in their lives, all as they attempt to accomplish everything on their collective bucket list.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
The English language is filled with all sorts of strange sayings, some of which make sense, while others remain nebulous in their origins. For instance, most everyone knows that the idiom "kick the bucket" is another way of saying that someone or something has died or stopped functioning, but there's no consensus regarding where it began or how and/or why a "bucket" is associated with death.

Few, however, will be confused about the way a variation of that saying permeates the flawed but still somewhat affecting dramedy, "The Bucket List." In it, acting veterans Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two older men who find themselves unlikely roommates in a hospital Nicholson's character runs.

Both men are facing life threatening forms of cancer, and to help him get an emotional grip on what's occurring, Freeman's starts writing a "bucket list" of simple things he wants to accomplish before "kicking it." When he gets his prognosis of 12 months or less, he crumples up that sheet of paper, figuring there's no point in continuing. But his roommate, with just half that forecast time, seizes upon the idea for them to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. And since he has more than enough money, the sky's the limit.

Appropriately enough, I guess, Justin Zackham's screenplay has them start by diving from that sky (as in tandem skydiving). That's followed by a visit to the tattoo parlor, car racing, and then a whirlwind tour around the globe for some last minute sightseeing. Not to mention soul cleansing, getting things off one's chest, and learning a lesson or two about themselves, each other, life, and the world in which they live in.

Phew. That sounds like a lot to cram into six months, let alone a two-hour movie, and therein lies one of many issues or problems that may rub some viewers (and likely more critics) in various wrong ways. While the film does contain its serious and emotion-laden moments, it's also somewhat glib in terms of the "fun" these two grumpy old men get to experience, especially in light of what they're facing.

The behind-the-scenes design, of course, is first to get us to forget they're dying and have little time left, only then to drop a heavy reminder every now and then to confirm that this hasn't become just all fun and games. The problem is that the approach feels contrived and artificial, not to mention manipulative. Similarly, many viewers may ponder what sort of wonder drugs these guys were given that allows them to be on-the-go jet-setters that don't break a sweat, let alone experience debilitating exhaustion or symptom-related pangs.

Of course, the fun is in watching Nicholson and Freeman do their thing (although the latter, natch, has been tapped once again to do the voice over thing for the umpteenth time), and do so playing opposite each other. Then again, for some viewers, that will also strike a false or at least repetitive note since they're simply embodying what's nearly become caricatures of their recent screen stereotypes.

As you can probably discern, the film is likely going to play differently to different crowds. Older viewers (presumably closer to facing their mortality than younger ones) will likely be more receptive, and thus more easily touched by the emotional moments. On the other hand, younger and/or more cynical ones will likely be distracted by the semi-maudlin approach, credibility stretching moments, and/or the predictable material.

I fall somewhere in the middle where I noticed all of the problems, but was still affected by the way director Rob Reiner and his cast occasionally manage to hit the notes just right, or come pretty close. While it likely won't be on anyone's personal bucket list, it's a flawed but somewhat effective diversion about something we'll all have to face. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 8, 2008 / Posted January 11, 2008

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