“The Bucket List”

Play it again, Jack. Play it again, Morgan. And, while you’re at it, guys, why not do it to death?

Then again, doing things to death seems to be "The Bucket List’s" main reason for existence. Seldom has such a life-affirming message been surrounded by such soul-deadening desperation.

Naturally, it’s a comedy — an attempted one, anyway, that takes the "Grumpy Old Men" formula to its inevitable conclusion, focusing on its supposedly adorable geezer protagonists as they rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And, in the process, discover the true Meaning of Life.

Alas, Hollywood’s original "Grumpy Old Men," Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, are no longer with us. Except, thankfully, on DVD. (We’ll always have "The Odd Couple.")

But "The Bucket List" team of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman seems a likely all-star substitute, with Nicholson’s naughty-by-nature surliness providing vivid contrast with Freeman’s voice-of-God nobility.

At least in theory. In practice, not even Nicholson and Freeman can save "The Bucket List" from itself.

As a consequence, what might have been a touching meditation on life’s fleeting wonders instead becomes a maudlin exercise in audience manipulation.

Some movies, however manipulative, do it so stealthily and artfully you don’t mind being manipulated at all.

"The Bucket List" is not one of those movies.

And for that, we must credit — or, more precisely, blame — screenwriter Justin Zackham and director Rob Reiner. Based on this movie, neither of them has ever met a heart-tugging contrivance or shameless cliché they didn’t like. Or beat to death.

Appropriately, death is the focus of this attempt at life-affirming uplift, which gives grouchy billionaire Edward Cole (Nicholson) and dignified mechanic Carter Chambers (Freeman) their very own hospital meet-cute.

Cole became a billionaire, in part, because he insists that every penny-squeezing hospital he owns must have two patients to a room. No exceptions.

Not even for him, when he discovers he’s a cancer patient with mere months to live.

That’s a status he shares with his hospital roommate, Chambers, whose relatively modest circumstances in no way interfere with his vast knowledge (he’s a "Jeopardy!" whiz) or his understanding of what life’s all about.

Naturally, these grumpy guys get on each other’s nerves. That is, until they realize they’ve got a lot of livin’ to do — and precious little time left in which to live it.

So they concoct a joint to-do list before they kick the bucket. Some of the entries ("laugh till you cry," "help a complete stranger") don’t require any particular financial commitment.

For others, however — from globe-trotting treks to Egypt’s pyramids to daredevil bouts of skydiving and auto racing — it seems mighty convenient that half of this particular dynamic duo has billions of dollars, not to mention a private jet, at his disposal.

It’s also fortunate that Cole has no one to complicate his plans — except, perhaps, for his omnipresent assistant ("Will & Grace’s" riotous Sean Hayes, underplaying for a change). And Chambers’ own marriage, we soon learn, isn’t quite as perfect as he is. (Beverly Todd has the thankless role of the starchy spouse.)

Just as "The Bucket List’s" death-defying duo braves multiple perils to prove their vitality, those of us in the audience must test our mettle and risk emotional whiplash as the movie seesaws between raucous slapstick and sticky sentimentality.

That’s inevitable, considering Zackham’s connect-the-dots script — and the glaring credibility problems inherent in a so-called comedy about terminal cancer patients who are so miraculously symptom-free they have enough energy to dash around the world. (If Zackham had any firsthand experience with cancer, he’d know that there are times when getting out of bed or keeping a meal down qualify as miracles.)

Reiner, however, compounds this problem with his languid pacing and hokey, obvious staging. (Reiner hasn’t always been this clueless about comedy: remember "Spinal Tap" and "The Princess Bride"? More than two decades later, I still do — although it seems the director who made them has forgotten.)

And on those rare occasions when, despite everything, "The Bucket List" threatens to achieve genuine emotional impact, Reiner doesn’t trust the audience’s honest reaction; he prefers to force the issue. To say nothing of the tears.

That leaves the (limited) pleasures of watching Nicholson and Freeman do their thing. It’s nothing they haven’t done before — and there are times when both actors come dangerously close to self-parody in the process.

Still, I suppose there are worse ways to waste 97 minutes of your life than watching Freeman radiate island-of-calm dignity — or Nicholson strain to conjure that old Jack magic one more time. I just can’t think of them at the moment.

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0272.

Entertainment Videos
Masso Osteria first anniversary in Las Vegas
Scott Conant was in town Tuesday to host a one-year anniversary party for his Red Rock Resort restaurant Masso Osteria.
Baked Alaska a specialty at Favorite Bistro in Las Vegas
Award-winning pastry chef Claude Escamilla makes Baked Alaska with strawberry sorbet and vanilla gelato and flames it at Favorite Bistro at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Chili cooks face fierce and friendly competition at Nevada cook-off
Forty chili cooks competed in the Nevada State Chili Cookoff in Pahrump on Sunday, March 17, 2019, with the winners advancing to the World Championship Chili Cook-off in Des Moines, Iowa. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Arcade ‘speakeasy’ leads to secret door and Banksy art in Las Vegas
Arcade ‘speakeasy’ leads to secret door, Banksy art in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hazel in Las Vegas serves modern takes on traditional cocktails
Hazel serves modern takes on traditional cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas celebrates St. Patrick's Day
Tonight the city lit the Welcome sign green, McMullan's Irish Pub and the Guinness store also prepare for this weekend's St. Patrick's Day festivities. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Reuben sandwich at Served in Henderson, near Las Vegas
Matthew Meyer, chef/owner of Served, makes a Reuben sandwich with house-brined corned beef, house-made sauerkraut and gooey melted cheese at his restaurant in Henderson, outside Las Vegas. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas day club season returns with big-name DJs
Rick Ross, March 23, at Daylight Beach Club at Mandalay Bay The Chainsmokers, March 30, at Encore Beach Club Marshmello, April 6, Kaos Dayclub at the Palms Chuckie, May 11, Marquee Dayclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Calvin Harris, May 11, Wet Republic at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Pizza expert Chris Bianco makes meatballs in Las Vegas
Chris Bianco, who was the keynote speaker at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, demonstrates meatball making for expo attendees. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas pulmonologist talks about new movie dealing with cystic fibrosis
Dr. Craig Nakamura, Director of Cystic Fibrosis Center of Southern Nevada, talks about the upcoming romantic drama “Five Feet Apart” where both of the lead characters suffer from cystic fibrosis. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
World Pizza Champion crowned in Las Vegas
At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Italian pizzaiolo Federico De Silvestri took the top prize and more than $12,000. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Italian wins Pizza Maker of the Year at Pizza Expo
Federico De Silvestri of Verona, Italy, wins the finals in the non-traditional pizza category during the International Pizza Challenge at the International Pizza Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center Thursday, March 7, 2019. De Silvestri went on to beat winners from each of the four other categories — traditional, pan, pizza Napoletana and Roman — to win Pizza Maker of the Year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Good Pie Coming To Arts District
Local pizzaiolo Vincent Rotolo says Good Pie is coming to the Arts District. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local comedian says "It's ok to laugh, ...the comedy club is dark."
K-Von, a half-Persian comedian, talks about his style of comedy which keeps audiences entertained.
Pizza Dough Throwing Competition
Contestants participate in the World Pizza Games at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Wednesday night. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
World Pizza Games showcased in Las Vegas
The World Pizza Games, part of the International Pizza Expo, drew competitors from all over the world to Las Vegas to compete in events such as dough stretching and box folding. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Pizza competitors dazzle at international expo
The International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center included the first rounds of the World Pizza Games. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas showcases products and trends
At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, vegan and gluten-free menu choices and compostable packaging were highlighted, as well as Detroit-style and Roman-style pizza. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Chef Dan Krohmer talks about a new restaurant
Chef Dan Krohmer talks about the construction of his new restaurant at Fremont Street’s Fergusons Downtown complex in downtown Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Neon Museum lights up the Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign
The Neon Museum in Las Vegas flipped the switch on its latest acquisition Monday night, the Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
A Taste of Eataly Las Vegas
Executive Chef Nicole Brisson gives a tour around Eataly Las Vegas, located in the Park MGM. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Order a pretty purple cocktail at North Italia in Las Vegas
Order a pretty purple cocktail at North Italia in Las Vegas (Janna Karel/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Towering triple decker sandwich at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas
Jonah Resnick, executive chef of Sadelle’s, the newest restaurant at Bellagio in Las Vegas, serves a daunting concoction of roast beef layered with house-made cole slaw, turkey and more cole slaw, on rye bread. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Paris Las Vegas Debuts New Eiffel Tower Light Show
The Paris in Las Vegas unveiled its latest Eiffel Tower light show, Wednesday evening. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video: Las Vegas Omelet House Marks 40th anniversary
Omelet House at Charleston Boulevard and Rancho Drive in Las Vegas, which opened in 1979, is a locals’ favorite, known for fluffy six-egg omelets. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Golden Knights' Ryan Reaves readying new beer
Ryan Reaves, a forward with the Golden Knights, has plans for a second beer, a lager, through his 7Five Brewing Co. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Bellagio Adds Lady Gaga To The Fountain Playlist
Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” has been added to the rotation of classic tunes played for the dancing waters at Lake Bellagio. The song debuted at 6 p.m. Monday. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Comedian uses laughter to bring understanding about AIDS
Comedian Brandon Cox Sanford talks about how he uses his comedy sketches to bring light to his AIDS diagnosis. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
20th anniversary of the House of Blues in Las Vegas
Sasha Rincon-Camacho, regional marketing director, talks about the 20th anniversary of the House of Blues in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Meow Wolf opening an 'otherworldly' art experience in Las Vegas
Meow Wolf opening "otherworldly" art experience in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Home Front Page Footer Listing