As America’s Baby Boomer generation begin their long, slow, descent into senility and decrepitude, the rest of us are going to be subjected to an increasing number of movies along the lines of “The Bucket List.” It’s not the first (and certainly won’t be the last) movie about formerly self-involved and otherwise engaged individuals who find the true meaning of life in the twilight of their years.
Jack Nicholson plays Edward Cole, a billionaire hospital magnate who is diagnosed with cancer and – irony of ironies – is forced by his own cost-cutting moves to share a room with Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), a mechanic who is similarly facing an abbreviated life span. Plot contrivances being what they are, the two become fast friends, and Carter reluctantly joins Edward on his dying quest to fulfill his “bucket list,” so named because it’s a list of things you want to take care of before kicking the bucket.
One’s initial reaction to seeing Nicholson and Freeman sharing top billing for a movie might be to expect an effort of some quality. Here are two Academy Award winning actors, after all, with combined decades of acting experience under their respective belts. Surely we can’t be faulted for expecting them to rise to the occasion and deliver something worthy of our consideration and respect?
You probably already know where I’m going with this. Far from being an honest depiction of what it might be like to be stricken with incurable illness, “The Bucket List” is a simple-minded and trite examination of what happens when two old men, one of whom has the financial wherewithal to spend his remaining months in a never-ending cavalcade of 18-year old scotch and barely legal a*s, decide to embark upon a series of perfunctory escapades to prove that they really have learned the value of a full and enlightened life.
Does any of it ring true? No. By the kindness of his heart, Edward decides to finance Carter accompanying him on his journey, even though the latter has a family at home who, I don’t know, might be interested in spending some time with the family patriarch before he shuffles off his mortal coil. Carter’s wife Virginia (Beverly Todd) touches upon the obvious without actually saying what we’re all thinking: that it’s sort of insulting that a rich white dude is essentially buying the companionship of a black guy to assuage his colonial guilt.
More than any of that, “The Bucket List” is further proof that even our most critically lauded thespians are eminently capable of churning out garbage. What’s that: Jack Nicholson is playing another curmudgeonly iconoclast? Morgan Freeman is the somber working class type who masks his life of disappointment by becoming an expert in just about everything else? Director Rob Reiner truly is a cinematic genius. Edward and Carter are like the original Odd Couple, except nobody’s laughing.