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Review: 'Bucket List' should have stayed in drawer

  • Story Highlights
  • "The Bucket List" stars Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman
  • The two star as terminally ill patients with a list of things they want to do
  • Review: Nicholson "has some fun"; Freeman is on "cruise control"
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By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- "The Bucket List," director Rob Reiner's latest, suggests dying could be the best thing that ever happens to you -- just so long as you find a lonely billionaire lying in the next bed.

Bucket List

In "The Bucket List," Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have a number of things they want to do before they die.

Morgan Freeman is Carter Chambers, a mechanic who dropped out of college to get married and provide for his kids. Carter knows a lot about pretty much everything -- he's a whiz at "Jeopardy!" -- but when the doctors give him less than a year to live, he's not so sure about anything any more.

Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is dealt the same lousy hand -- a turn of events that requires some mental adjustment. He's not used to losing. Not only is he fabulously wealthy, this is his hospital. But all his power and money can't make any difference now.

Or can it?

Save for some early odd-couple prickliness, the two men hit it off, and soon Edward suggests they team up and work through Carter's whimsically scrawled "bucket list" -- i.e., things to do before kicking it. Video Watch Freeman talk about his own list »

Carter doesn't take much persuasion. He's given decades to the wife and kids and he figures he's overdue some down time.

If that strikes you as selfish and heartless -- or at least typical for a guy -- wait until you get a load of the list. Carter has a yen to drive a Mustang Shelby. Edward wants a tattoo. They're both up for some skydiving.

Every so often there's a token reminder that these seniors (both actors turned 70 this year) are terminally ill. But more often the movie plays their imminent expiration date for kamikaze laughs. Boys will be boys, heh heh.

Spiritual contemplation isn't entirely off limits, but it's relegated to the status of sightseeing. They visit the pyramids and the Taj Mahal, or at least what appears to be a blue-screen simulacra of the same. They go on safari, and ponder the possibilities of reincarnation in the Himalayas. It's exactly this kind of pre-packaged epiphany Wes Anderson satirized in the maligned "Darjeeling Limited."

Freeman doesn't exactly exert himself as Carter assumes the role of sagacious tour guide (and our narrator). He's an actor who flips too easily into cruise control, and he switches it on regularly in "The Bucket List."

Nicholson at least has some fun with his role -- listen to the way he pronounces "America" at the end of their journey; injecting both contempt and satisfaction in those four syllables. He works up some rapport with Sean Hayes, very droll as Edward's sardonic personal assistant, but there's not much give and take going on with Freeman. Their friendship scarcely feels tested. Ever the cynic, Nicholson settles for skepticism, sniffing the air for a hint of tension that isn't really there.

Predictably, the best Jack Zackham's script can supply is Carter's wife (Beverly Todd) and Edward's daughter. Women: Can't live with 'em, can't die without 'em.

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All good things come to an end, and it's the same with the not so good -- they just feel longer. Watching "The Bucket List" may not inspire philosophical introspection, but it's quite likely to make you re-examine your priorities. At least as far as movie-going is concerned.

"The Bucket List" is rated PG-13 and runs 97 minutes. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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