Edward Cole (Nicholson) is a white man with a passion for women, exotic coffee, and money. Carter Chambers (Freeman) is a black man with apparently no passion at all. Cole is a corporate millionaire and three times divorced. Chambers is a car mechanic with a wife and grown kids. Apart from their advanced years, their shared hospital room, and terminal cancer, they have nothing in common. Which means, of course, they’re destined to become best friends. In Reiner’s latest exercise in syrupy nonsense, Cole and Chambers leave behind their depressing hospital beds and chemotherapy sessions and jump into Cole’s private jet to check items off their bucket list (that being the list of things they want to do before they kick the bucket). For an hour, they drive sports cars at high speeds, travel to exotic countries, and check out the Himalayas, whooping and hollering as they go. They also aim for slightly vaguer, more “mystical” goals, such as laughing until they cry, witnessing something majestic, and finding the joy in their lives, making The Bucket List
the 400th movie to come out of Hollywood in the last 10 years to mistake bumper-sticker self-help platitudes for spirituality: Be as You Are, Live Every Day Like It’s Your Last, Follow Your Bliss, Dance Like Nobody’s Watching, Eat Like Nobody’s Listening, Don’t Forget the Pine Nuts, Look Out for Washbasins, Don’t Be Worried About Not Being Afraid That You’re Scared of Being Terrified. All the classics. Which I guess are pleasant enough prescriptions for getting a little something more out of life, but they make for exceedingly bland moviemaking. Which is exactly what The Bucket List
is: white-bread storytelling made by, for, and about people who think joy and meaning can be acquired by simply taking a step or two out of life’s comfort zones and into African-safari packages and skydiving excursions. It’s safety-first adventuring and safety-first filmmaking, both of which should be mortal sins. What Reiner should have done, instead of giving himself over to his most commercial instincts, is aim to capture the true desperation of sick men staring into that good night and realizing that the opposite of going quietly is going brazenly. Who wouldn’t want to watch Nicholson and Freeman daring each other to commit brash acts of wildness and antisocial amorality in the name of seizing the day? What a bucket list those two could come up with then: 1) Rob a bank. 2) Snort heroin. 3) Kill a man. The list could go on and on, only to end when Cole crash-lands his jet into the Taj Mahal while Chambers is in the bathroom having his first (and last) homoerotic experience with the plane’s pilot. “Carpe diem!” they’d holler as they scratch that last item off their list before being consumed by a giant fireball of their own making. Put that on a bumper sticker, Meathead.