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Rich man/poor man

Movies | Bucket List treats life and death issues to pop philosophy

Issue: "Signs and wonders," Jan. 26, 2008

The Bucket List (rated PG-13 for language) is certainly well-intentioned as it confronts the issue of impending mortality head-on. But, intentions aside, the film is wanting in its execution.

Jack Nicholson plays Edward Cole, a man who's made a fortune privatizing hospitals. When he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he is forced to share a hospital room with Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) because of a for-profit policy he implemented in his own hospitals. Chambers, a closet genius, was forced to give up his dreams of higher education for a career as an auto mechanic so he could raise his family. The two opposites form an unlikely bond when both realize they have less than a year to live.

They set about creating a "bucket list," a list of things to do before kicking the bucket. With Cole's financial resources, the two men pursue everything from skydiving and car racing to climbing the pyramids and visiting Mt. Everest. Along the way, the two discuss the meaning of their lives ad nauseam-and in a way that wouldn't prove thought-provoking outside a freshman dorm at 2 a.m.

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The movie's endless discussions touch on the issue of faith, but the film seems to put Cole's atheism on equal footing with Chambers' steadfast faith in God. Nicholson's character is morally odious. For example, after Chambers confides in him that he's having difficulty relating to his wife after 40 years of marriage, Cole helps his friend find clarity by tempting him with an upscale escort in a Hong Kong bar. The film never seems to figure out that Cole is having trouble coming to terms with his life not because he's prematurely contemplating death, but because he's a venal jerk.

The Bucket List is directed by the talented Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride, Stand By Me), so it hangs together well enough, and both Nicholson and Freeman turn in excellent performances. But one can scarcely imagine what could be done to redeem an inch-deep screenplay that earnestly tries to convince us that its pernicious pop philosophy is somehow profound.

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