THE BUCKET LIST directed by Rob Reiner, written by Justin Zackham, with Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Beverly Todd and Sean Hayes. A Warner Brothers release. 97 minutes. Rating: NNN
The Bucket List, wherein Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman face death by going off and doing things they feel they have to accomplish before they die, demands that we ignore a fundamental improbability: Nicholson’s character is so rich (private plane rich) that, if hospitalized, he wouldn’t be sharing a room.
The script by Justin Zackham, a young screenwriter of no particular distinction (anyone catch his frat comedy Going Greek?), is laden with sentimental pitfalls from which director Rob Reiner and his exceedingly veteran cast are smart enough to pull back, giving what might be a weepy fatality fest an unusual degree of emotional restraint.
It’s good casting. Nicholson and Freeman are almost exact contemporaries (Nicholson is five weeks older), with almost a century of acting experience between them and over 150 film credits, yet they’ve never worked together before.
Freeman has enough calm to take Nicholson at any level of outrage, but Nicholson doesn’t let Freeman settle into that elder-statesman persona that fits him like an ermine robe.Each is doing his distinctive thing – which is why you hire them, after all – but neither is allowed to be lazy, which is always the danger. Nicholson can convey studied rage in his sleep, just as Freeman needn’t stretch for nobility.
You want to see this film for the actors – and the travelogue. Still, I can’t help but think the actors never left L.A. while the second unit was running around catching the Mediterranean at twilight and new stock footage of the Taj Mahal. You don’t think Nicholson and Freeman were actually sitting on top of an Egyptian pyramid, do you?
Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman already have their golden guys. But never underestimate the power of an aging Academy membership acknowledging a film about geezers facing mortality.