‘The Bucket List’ movie review: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman in effective schmaltz


Neither as oppressively bad as the critical venom leveled against the film would have you believe, nor as good as its powerhouse star duo and box office intake may indicate, Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List falls somewhere in-between as a schmaltzy yet sometimes effective comedy-drama. 

Still, director Reiner has fallen a long way since an 8-year run that started with This is Spinal Tap and ended with A Few Good Men.

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman star as terminally ill cancer patients Edward Cole and Carter Chambers, confined to share the same room at a standard-issue US hospital. 

Carter is introverted and intelligent (we know this because he barks out the correct answers while watching Jeopardy on TV), while Edward is an arrogant prick (we know this because he’s played by Jack Nicholson). Edward is also the wealthy owner of the hospital, who throws himself at the mercy of his hospital’s staff and conditions for PR reasons and screenwriter’s contrivance. 

The two men forcibly bond, and develop the titular list of ‘things to do before we die’, which they ought to get to doing, and fast. So with an extended montage that actually takes up most of the running time, the two codgers travel around the world and go skydiving, racecar driving, mountain climbing, etc. Expectedly, things get melodramatic by the end.

As lightweight fluff it really ain’t bad: well acted and moderately amusing, it goes by fast without requiring much thought. Unfortunately, when you a topic like cancer, you might be expected you do so with some dignity and restraint, which, I fear, isn’t on display with Jack’s bare ass and toilet bowl theatrics. 

Though I cannot imagine how a cancer patient might react to this film (and cannot imagine recommending it to one), to be fair, it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be considered offensive. Until the end, at least, when the movie finally distanced itself from me with its phony sentimentality. 

Yet most critics hate the film for taking serious subject matter and pandering to mass audiences. 

But you should know whether you can take this kind of stuff: if skydiving, globetrotting cancer patients living life to the fullest in exotic locales while coming to terms with their terminal illness might leave you retching in bad-taste despair, avoid at all costs.

The Bucket List


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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