Rob Reiner's feel-good tear-jerker, in which dying well is the best revenge, wants to be heartwarming. But first-timer Justin Zackham's screenplay is so stridently formulaic and disingenuous that the film falls flat at every inspirational turn.
Ruthless gazillionaire businessman Edward Perryman Cole (Jack Nicholson) abruptly finds himself in one of his own health-care facilities, sharing a room with middle-class auto mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) because, as his snippy assistant (Sean Hayes) points out, a private room would be bad public relations on the heels of Cole's vehement rebuttal of city-council inquiries into patient overcrowding. Cole's vehement declarations that he isn't running some swanky spa and everyone doubles up mean that he's going to have to do the same. Cole and Chambers both have terminal cancer, and Chambers is facing death with the support of his loving family and a list of things he always secretly hoped he'd do before the end — the titular "bucket list." Edward, by contrast, has fulfilled all the dreams money can buy, but he's going the final mile alone: Each of his four marriages failed and he's estranged from his only child. Following the requisite curmudgeonly bickering, Cole assumes the role of fairy death-father and sets about fulfilling all Chambers' unfulfilled wishes, a project that involves much globetrotting via private Lear jet, staying in four-star hotels and dining in the creme de la creme of the world's restaurants. Crises are weathered and lessons are learned en route to a painfully predictable conclusion.
Powerhouse casting isn't inherently good casting, and Nicholson's wolfish showboating is exceptionally ill-suited to what was clearly meant as a sincere exploration of what parts of life matter when death is close at hand; Freeman's natural gravitas is no match. The decision to use green-screen effects for their tour of the world's wonders, which include Egypt's pyramids, the Taj Mahal, China's Great Wall and the majestic Himalayas, may have kept the budget in check, but it contributes to the film's overall feeling of artificiality. The real trouble, though, is its profoundly mixed message. What's important in life is love, loyalty and the appreciation of life's everyday miracles, but good-guy Chambers &$151; who embodies those qualities &$151; only gets his richly deserved reward because some filthy rich robber-baron has an 11th-hour revelation and starts spreading the wealth (albeit on a highly selective basis) and becomes a better person in the process. Nice deal. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh