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      The Bucket List Review

      The Bucket List poster

      The Bucket List

      Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune

      Rob Reiner proved bewitching and insightful on pre-adolescence ("Stand By Me"), on-the-road youth ("The Sure Thing") and adult love and lust ("When Harry Met Sally").

      But he stumbles badly in tackling geriatric blues in "The Bucket List," a manipulative look at dying with dignity and a lame yarn about as realistic as the fantasy in "The Princess Bride."

      The pitch itself is hopelessly hokey. Two seniors (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman), different economically, racially and temperamentally, share only a hospital room and their terminal diagnoses. They're grumpy, but lovable underneath, and they overcome their initial personality conflict to team up for a gallant, end-of-life and utterly preposterous crusade - a mission to fulfill a set of unfulfilled dreams before they "kick the bucket." Riffing on that hoary euphemism, they label the roster their bucket list.

      Such a movie seems all but destined to sink in treacle and then muster up ersatz redemption, and that's the case. Edward Cole (Nicholson) is a formerly married multimillionaire who owns the hospital where the two meet. But he's so hard-hearted, he has a rule forbidding anyone from having a private room. For that reason, when he falls desperately ill himself, he's forced to have a roommate, too, who turns out to be Carter Chambers (Freeman), a mechanic somewhat estranged from his wife, but otherwise a loving family man.

      One's alone, the other's working through a kind of marital alienation, and they find each other. They grouse, overcome their curmudgeonly differences and forge a warriors-in-chemotherapy bond, hatching their list as one last hurrah. The softening of their separate personal frictions (turns out Edward has an estranged daughter) is gooey and predictable enough.

      But couldn't screenwriter Justin Zackham at least come up with a more imaginative lineup for the movie's titular list? The locales are numbingly dated, right out of an old travelog (the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China), while the adventures are male menopausal cliches (sky-diving, car racing and mountain climbing). Couldn't they have used all of Cole's money for something at least outlandish, like solving global warming or even curing one of their ailments?

      "Bucket List" is a buddy movie with trite locales and formulaic catharses. In another sign of cinema ceding resourcefulness to television, the underpinnings of "Bucket List" - the harshness of modern medicine, the piquancy of quirky, domestic breakthrough - arrive more pertly each week on "Grey's Anatomy."

      Freeman, as a repressed intellectual (and "Jeopardy" whiz) forced to leave college for fatherhood, is the only actor who survives all this, his innate, effortless dignity typically brightening each of his scenes, though he's a little hard to believe as a car mechanic. But Nicholson, often sporting a gaping, off-putting daze reminiscent of his "Cuckoo" character's post-lobotomy, is on overdrive here, barking through scenes as if desperate to disguise the weak script. The restraint and sharp details of his "About Schmidt" and "As Good As It Gets" performances are absent.

      Everyone else is window dressing, including Sean Hayes, apparently determined to shed his "Will & Grace" flamboyance by playing an understated, accountant-like, passive-aggressive aide to Nicholson's Scrooge. Inoffensive, he's a male Eve Arden minus the spunk and forceful delivery. Shots of snowy mountains, exotic locations and luxurious interiors have a generic, impersonal gloss, as if Reiner surrendered any sense of cinematography for store-bought postcards. This is a list best tossed in the bucket marked "trash."

      "The Bucket List"

      Directed by Rob Reiner; written by Justin Zackham; photographed by John Schwartzman; edited by Robert Leighton; music by Marc Shaiman; production design by Bill Brzeski; produced by Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Alan Greisman and Reiner. A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 1:37. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for language, including a sexual reference).

      Edward - Jack Nicholson

      Carter - Morgan Freeman

      Thomas - Sean Hayes

      Virginia - Beverly Todd

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