Monday, January 14, 2008

The Bucket List

I saw an enjoyable movie today. The Bucket List might have been a great movie, but for Hollywood's inexplicable inability to resist being stupid from time to time. The opening third, including all of the hospital scenes, was generally realistic and outstanding. Great interaction between Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Solid casting. And the final lap and sprint to the finish line was equally touching. Guys, be ready with the tissues if you take a date. As an exploration of relationships and male bonding, these parts of the movie get an A.

Then there's that disappointing middle. Just forget about "willing suspension of disbelief." It won't really matter how willing you are. The result is that you'll find yourself sort of cringing and hoping that the stupidity doesn't last long so that you can get back to the decent parts of the script. It's pretty clear that even the two principals knew those scenes were stupid, but got through them by reminding themselves, "It's okay . . . they pay me to act, not screenwrite."

Don't get me wrong. It's great that they went skydiving. I won't bore you by listing all the unrealities in that scene (at least they're not as bad as Point Break). I'll just say they were unnecessary. They didn't get enough laughs to make it worth the departure from an otherwise very real tale. Same for driving the cars. Great that they did that. But a man does not caress a cherry Shelby GT like a prom date one minute and then start playing demolition derby with it the next. Surely even Morgan Freeman choked on that when he read it. And what the hell is up with Morgan's frippin' heartplug straight out of Dune? A chest catheter that leaks blood all over his shirt front? And this, days or weeks after he went skydiving? Right.

But those breaches of good sense don't make it not worth seeing. They knock the overall grade down to a B- at best, and they give the movie something of a split personality, as if someone spliced together a really good script like Something's Gotta Give with some silly Ben Stiller film. But the beginning and end, when Nicholson and Freeman get to act and develop their characters, make it worth the time, and make you wish for screenwriters above the age of 16. All in all, there are worse ways to while away two hours of your life. Much worse.