The Bucket List

Directed by Rob Reiner. January 2008, USA. Rated PG-13: 97 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 1/13/2008)

What’s a Morgan Freeman movie without a rambling introductory voiceover that muses about the profundity of life and death? This I wondered as I climbed over the legs of an immobile Baby Boomer couple to my second-row seat in a theater jam-packed with senior citizens. As the house lights dimmed for the 4:30 showing of The Bucket List, two revelations struck me:

1) Morgan Freeman no longer stars in movies without narrating. His gravelly voice is his greatest asset. 2) Old people will flock to theaters on a Friday – but only to watch a movie featuring two equally old actors.

While defending in court his hospital’s stingy handling of patients, cantankerous billionaire Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) suffers from a severe bout of coughing until blood spurts onto his handkerchief. In a karmic twist of fate, Cole’s doctors diagnose him with cancer, forcing a prolonged stay in his own hospital. At first, he despises his roommate, a wise auto mechanic with an encyclopedic knowledge of world history (Freeman). But when the two learn that they will both die within six months – a year if they’re lucky – they bond as friends and create a list of experiences they plan on sharing before they bite the dust. Skydiving; visiting the pyramids of Ancient Egypt; driving sexy cars; yada yada yada, you know the drill.

At best, The Bucket List is a heartwarming testament to the uplifting power of friendship and loyalty. I spied plenty of teary-eyed grannies leaving the theater touched by the film’s message. At worst, however, the film portrays Nicholson and Freeman in ways everyone expects. We already know from The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and countless other cinema classics that Jack can play the troubled lunatic. We already know from Million Dollar Baby, Se7en, and other films that Morgan can play the worldly sage.

Come on, fellas. Show us something new.