Like Six Degrees of Separation and Catch-22 before it, The Bucket List grabbed a place in the zeitgeist by identifying and naming a phenomenon that resonated with numerous people. Even when they hadn't seen the film, the term "bucket list" became a popular way for people to describe the exotic things they wanted to experience before dying. If only Rob Reiner's movie actually deserved that kind of widespread awareness. It starts out well enough, as screenwriter Justin Zackham takes his time establishing the characters of Carter (Morgan Freeman), a jovial mechanic with a brain full of trivia, and Edward (Jack Nicholson), a surly billionaire with a love of good coffee, who meet in neighboring hospital beds while fighting terminal cancer. Reiner and Zackham stay in this setting for over 30 minutes, developing these men into three-dimensional characters and mutual confidants. It's when they get to the actual bucket-listing that the film starts to rush, alternating between broad comedy and maudlin sentiment. Carter and Edward's jet-setting is thrown together haphazardly, serving only as an arbitrary background for their touchy-feely conversations and physical pratfalls. (And it's quite a flimsy background -- Freeman and Nicholson are clearly acting against green screens, rather than real settings.) This all leads up to a third-act reversal that manipulates the way the narrative was originally being told, intended as some kind of plot twist. Shortcomings aside, it's a consistent treat to watch these two acting treasures working together. The usually saintly Freeman is permitted to show human weakness, and does so well; the always mischievous Nicholson gets to indulge in more of the same, tossing in a few tugged heartstrings for good measure. Though watching The Bucket List shouldn't be on any dying man's list of priorities, it's a harmless enough way for the healthy to pass their time.
by Derek Armstrong review