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"THE UPSIDE"
(2019) (Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A paralyzed multi-millionaire forms an unlikely friendship with the ex-con he hires to be his caregiver.
PLOT:
Phillip (BRYAN CRANSTON) is a multi-millionaire entrepreneur and author who became paralyzed a few years earlier due to a paragliding accident. A widower with no kids, he spends his days surrounded by the enormous wealth he accumulated in his previous life. He looks forward only to that moment in his life when he might succumb to his condition and his staff must fulfill his Do Not Resuscitate order.

He is particularly hard on caregivers, many of whom have come and gone. During his latest round of interviews, though, he becomes intrigued by an ex-con named Dell (KEVIN HART), who has wandered in off the street thinking he is applying for a janitorial position. Despite the misgivings and protests of his loyal business assistant, Yvonne (NICOLE KIDMAN), he hires Dell even though he has no experience caring for a man in his condition.

Philip begins to see the potential in the quick-thinking, straight-shooting Dell, who has a long rap sheet of mostly petty, non-violent crimes. Dell, in turn, starts to revive Philip's lost sense of play and zest for life. As he does so, he starts to become a responsible man able to pay child support to his ex-wife, Latrice (AJA NAOMI KING), and son, Anthony (JAHI DI'ALLO WINSTON). But that all becomes threatened when Philip has a disastrous first date with Lily (JULIANNA MARGULIES), a woman who's been his pen pal for months who Dell convinces him to meet in person.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
"The Upside" has almost as many obstacles to overcome as its two lead protagonists played by Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. For one, the movie was developed by The Weinstein Company and had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September 2017. But then Harvey Weinstein's infamous fall from grace harkened the company's bankruptcy, the film entered a state of limbo, and was eventually sold to STX Entertainment. Two, it's a remake of the hit 2011 French movie, "The Intouchables," which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe Award and was the most successful French-language film ever in multiple countries. Three, there is the whole Hart/Oscars hosting controversy centered around homophobic jokes he told as a stand-up years ago resurfacing.

By contrast, Cranston's Phillip is a paraplegic multi-millionaire who has became paralyzed due to an ill-advised paragliding excursion years earlier. He has subsequently suffered the death of his beloved wife to cancer and lost his will to live. Hart's Dell, meanwhile, has been in and out of prison for years due to a string of mostly non-violent crimes. He is a stranger to his son, way behind on his child support payments to his child's mother, and doesn't have much hope things will get better.

He interviews to become Phillip's caregiver thinking he is applying to become a janitor. Phillip takes an immediate liking to the mouthy, young man and hires him because he is pretty sure his conscience wouldn't get in the way of his beloved Do Not Resuscitate order should his breathing stop. What follows, though, is an unlikely friendship in which each man makes the other better.

"The Upside" is formula, and much of the mainstream media has its claws out for the film because they loved the more high-brow French original and currently despise Hart the person. But taken on its own terms, the film works as a light comedy and even lighter drama. You know where it's going in the first five minutes. Heck, in the first five minutes, the movie actually shows you a good part of its ending and then flashes back to "six months earlier."

But I liked the chemistry between Cranston and Hart. I was surprised the mix here is about 70 percent drama and 30 percent comedy. I was expecting something a bit broader, even slapstick-y from Hart. And director Neil Burger of "The Illusionist" and "Limitless" shoots New York City to make it look absolutely beautiful on the big screen. It makes you wish you lived in Gotham and had plenty of disposable income.

Now, even though this is based on a true story, there's no getting around the fact that "The Upside" is indeed totally predictable. Also, Nicole Kidman is pretty much wasted as Cranston's business assistant. It's kind of painful to watch this Oscar winner forced to dim her star wattage to play third banana to Cranston and Hart. And none of the other supporting players are allowed any screen time to turn this film into the charmer it really could have been.

But as a rainy Saturday afternoon matinee or home view, it's perfectly pleasing, completely undemanding entertainment. I rate it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed January 9, 2019 / Posted January 11, 2019


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