Upside, The: Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranson Are Decent, but this Message-Comedy Remake is Flat

The Upside, the American remake of the 2012 French hit, The Intouchables, is a disappointment (but not a total misfire), due to passable decent acting and decent chemistry between Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston.

For the record: It’s the third screen adaptation of the fact-based story of quadriplegic French billionaire Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caregiver Abdel Sellou.

Centering on the evolving friendship between two vastly different individuals, The Upside bears some thematic resemblance to Green Book, which itself recalled Driving Miss Daisy, the 1989 Best Picture Oscar winner.

The premise: a rich, strict, closed-minded , wealthy, and educated individual rediscovers the meaning–and joy–of life through his interaction with a minority or underprivileged member of society who’s working for him.

What differs from story to story, which is always about two individuals from different classes and walks of life, is the particular age of the protagonist, their minority status (black in this case), and low-level occupation (they could be drivers, gardeners, postmen, assistants, caregiver).

Moving the setting to New York, the tale centers on billionaire is Phillip (Bryan Cranston), and the ex-con who inadvertently is employed by him, Dell (Kevin Hart).

Phillip is looking for a man with special skills than go beyond those of a standard caregiver–Dell is expected to lift his employer physically, in and out of bed, as well as socially, and all of it rather quickly..

Dell accepts the job, with all the initial anxieties and discomfort involved, including dealing with Phillip’s assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), who’s harsh taskmaster.

Phillip’s physical limitations (he’s wheelchair-bound) can be more easily handled than his psycho-social handicaps.

At first there is tension and animosity.  There is a nice bit with first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

But predictably, their evolving friendship is mutually rewarding.  Phillip teaches Dell about fine art and opera, Dell gets Phillip high and takes him to Gray’s Papaya.

Phillip engages in a strange romance, based on epistolary relationship with a woman he has never met. This is, of course, an anathema for Dell, who only believes in face-to-face meeting, which he later initiates.

The way that meeting goes is not the way similarly pitched rom-coms might have prepared you for, and it again speaks to something that’s hard to sum up with a cute tagline about odd couples. The whole film seems geared to an idea that

Ultimately, the movie panders and patronizes both men. Dell’s poverty, rude manner, raunchy humor, direct behavior, and lack of literacy, are perceived as more honest and true than Phillip’s best qualities, because they comes straight from his heart and soul.

Kidman’s character is narrowly conceived, even when she begins to lose her harsh and cold manner in favor of more humanistic and rounded personality.

Hart has said that he wants to stretch as an actor, beyond the comedy shticks he has been doing for years, and in this respect, The Upside is a star vehicle in the right direction.

Director Neil Burger and writer Jon Hartmere have made an inspirational, overly stated message movie for the masses.

With a running time of two hours and five minutes, the movie overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes or so.

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