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If anyone could turn a tragicomedy about terminal cancer into a holiday moviegoing proposition, you’d think the team of Rob Reiner, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman might have had the right stuff.
Alas, their labored efforts fail to lift “The Bucket List” out of its flatlining state.
A film about a pair of cancer patients who set out to address 10 things they’d like to accomplish in their lives before they kick the proverbial bucket, this talky, inert production never makes it off that itemized page.
Although the pairing of Nicholson and Freeman could attract older viewers over time, the subject matter doesn’t exactly make for the most festive of options when it comes to Christmas Day openers. It goes wide Jan. 11.
Nicholson’s Edward Cole is a curmudgeon of a health-care billionaire who finds himself sharing a room in one of his hospitals with Freeman’s Carter Chambers, a trivia-spouting career car mechanic.
On the surface, the two share little in common with the exception of the grim diagnoses handed to them by their doctors. Both have maybe a month or maybe a year at most left to live their lives to the fullest.
One day, when Carter explains that the little list he has compiled originally was assigned by his freshman year philosophy professor, Edward talks him into turning a hypothetical exercise into reality.
Before you can say remission, the two check out of the cancer ward, much to the disapproval of Carter’s wife (Beverly Todd), and hop aboard Edward’s private plane for one big, final blowout.
See them skydive! See them get tattoos! See them take in the Great Pyramid of Khufu and the Taj Mahal!
But while it all cuts together to make one swell trailer, the end product fails to take flight.
Compounded by Reiner’s unusually leaden direction, Justin Zackham’s skin-and-bones script simply doesn’t give its two Oscar winners much to dine out on.
In theory, gonzo Jack and Zen master Morgan should make for an inspired odd couple, but while you keep expecting that dictated friction to ignite, their bucket list ends up feeling more like chores than spiritual fulfillment, with Reiner perfunctorily scratching off each item as he goes along.
Given the subject matter, we pretty much know from the start how the two characters will end up, so it’s those little surprises along the way that are going to make the journey worthwhile.
Unfortunately “Bucket List” manages to go everywhere and nowhere fast, leaving both its capable cast (also including “Will & Grace” alum Sean Hayes as Nicholson’s stoic assistant) and the viewer grasping for any telltale sign of life.
The resuscitation effort isn’t any more successful behind the scenes despite the involvement of cinematographer John Schwartzman (“Seabiscuit”), composer Marc Shaiman and especially editor Robert Leighton, who has worked on every one of Reiner’s features dating back to “This Is Spinal Tap.”
THE BUCKET LIST
Warner Bros. Pictures presentsa Zadan Meron/Reiner Greisman production
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenwriter: Justin Zackham
Producers: Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Alan Greisman, Rob Reiner
Executive producers: Jeffrey Stott, Travis Knox, Justin Zackham
Director of photography: John Schwartzman
Production designer: Bill Brzeski
Music: Marc Shaiman
Costume designer: Molly Maginnis
Editor: Robert Leighton
Edward: Jack Nicholson
Carter: Morgan Freeman
Thomas: Sean Hayes
Virginia: Beverly Todd
Dr. Hollins: Rob Morrow
Roger: Alfonso Freeman
Angelica: Rowena King
Running time — 96 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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