Bucket List: Bob Reiner Dramedy Starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman

In Bob Reiner’s dramedy, The Bucket List, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, arguably the most accomplished actors of their generation, appear together on screen for the first time. Unfortunately, their teaming doesn’t result in a display of acting fireworks, as might have been expected, but in a rather schmaltzy message melodramaabout living life to the fullest up to the very last momentin which Nicholson overacts and Freeman underacts.

The only good news about this collaboration (anticipated by some as the one in “Heat,” between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino) is that it represents Rob Reiner’s first commercial effort in a decade. Hard to tell whether it was bad luck, bad choice of material, or loss of directorial grip, but after hits like “Misery” and “A Few Good Men” (which also co-starred Jack Nicholson, albeit in a supporting role), Reiner went on to make “Ghosts of Mississippi,” “Story of Us,” and “Alex and Emma,” all disappointing films, artistically and commercially.

“Bucket List” marks Justin Zackham’s first studio-produced screenplay, which, according to the press notes, was inspired by his own bucket list during a crossroads in his life. Which goes to say that a film based on personal events doesn’t necessarily translate into a truthful or good one; the lessons and morals of Zackham’s narrative are skin-deep. Zackham, a graduate of NYU Film School, must be young, and it’s too bad that he makes his professional debut with such schlocky material, which may be a reflection of the Hollywood marketplace (what kinds of scripts sell) rather than his gifts.

Honorable, occasionally enjoyable, but decidedly unexciting, “Bucket List” raises a socio-demographic issue, namely, what kind of entertainment older viewers want to see, particularly that most studies indicate that members of such age groups don’t go much to the theaters

Thematically, and also in terms of tone, the literally titled “Bucket List” goes from a story of yet another Odd Couple to that of Grumpy Old Men. And since the gifted Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are long gone, other actors of the age they were when they made their collaborative pictures, have to fill the bill. But why Nicholson and Freeman They are too good, and still in great physical and mental shape, to play such routine TV-like schmaltz.

Fortunately, both Nicholson and Freeman project a much youthful image than their age, 70, might suggest. Nicholson, like Freeman, is a respected actor (the most Oscar-nominated thespian, next to Meryl Streep), but, unlike Freeman, he’s also a popular icon with younger viewers, as was evident in his hit comedies “About Schmidt” and “Anger Management,” with Adam Sandler.

Framed with voice-over narrations by Nicholson and Freeman, both blessed with wonderfully resonant voices, the tale reveals in the first few minutes that one of the protagonists is deceased. In flashback, we get to know how the Odd Couple met.

Years ago, Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), a beginning philosophy professor, suggested to his students compose a bucket list, a collection of all the things they wanted to do, see, and experience in life before they kicked the bucket. But while Carter was still trying to define his dreams and plans, the hard facts of reality intruded. Marriage, children, responsibilities, and a 46-year job as an auto mechanic turned his concept of bucket list into bittersweet memory of lost opportunities, a mental exercise.

Cut to corporate billionaire Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson), a man who never saw a list without a bottom line. Cole was simply too busy making money and building global empires to think about his true needs or wishes beyond deals and acquisition.

Things change, when life deliver an unexpected wake-up call to both men, and Carter and Edward find themselves sharing a hospital room with plenty of time to think about what might happen next–and how much they are still in control.

Predictably, the duo begins as another Hollywood Odd Couple, men who presumably have nothing in common. The whole point of the narrative is to bring Carter and Cole to a point where they are forced to “discover” common ground and shared goals, like their need to face the choices they had made, and a pressing desire to spend the time left doing everything they wished but never got to do.

Suddenly, the list becomes a timely, even urgent agenda, no longer a mental exercise. Against doctors’ orders and common sense, but very much in line with Hollywood logic, the two strangers check themselves out of the hospital and hit the road in an adventure that takes them from the Taj Mahal to the Serengeti, the finest restaurants and seediest tattoo parlors, the cockpit of vintage race cars and the open-door of prop planes.

Never mind the expense involved in such a journey-and the social class implications of the saga. With their gusto for life rekindled, the couple travels light; the main item of their luggage is a sheet of paper with their goals penciled in. Adding and crossing items off their list while taking in the beauty of the world, Cole and Carter grapple with some “difficult” questions.

There is not point of asking whether they will become true friends, who respect and learn from each other, because we already know the answer before the movie begins. Problem is, laced as it is with some humor and heart, the journey is tiresome and predictable, with more downs than ups.

Worse, there are not enough obstacles in their way to freedom, and there are hardly any secondary characters to speak of. For budgetary (and perhaps other) reasons, “Bucket List” is a prototypical two-handler melodrama.

Pity Sean Hayes (better-known for his role in TV’s “Will and Grace”), who has nothing interesting to do or say; he’s not even a good counterpart for Nicholson’s flamboyant Cole. Ditto for Rob Morrow, who plays the thankless role of Dr. Hollins. The only secondary role with some clout is that of Virginia, Carter’s wife (played Beverley Todd), who’s given a number of speeches, one good with Cole.

The creative team of this modest production includes director of photography John Schwartzman, production designer Bill Brzeski, film editor Robert Leighton, and composer Marc Shaiman.


Edward Cole – Jack Nicholson
Carter Chambers – Morgan Freeman
Thomas – Sean Hayes
Virginia Chambers – Beverly Todd
Roger – Alfonso Freeman
Angelica – Rowena King
Dr. Hollins – Rob Morrow


A Warner release of a Zadan Meron/Reiner Greisman production.
Produced by Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Alan Greisman, Rob Reiner.
Executive producers, Jeffrey Stott, Travis Knox, Justin Zackham.
Co-producer, Frank Capra III.
Directed by Rob Reiner.
Screenplay, Justin Zackham.
Camera: John Schwartzman.
Editor, Robert Leighton.
Music: Marc Shaiman.
Production designer: Bill Brzeski.
Art director: Jay Pelissier.
Set designers: Barbara Mesney, Jim Tocci.
Set decorator: Robert Greenfield.
Costume designer: Molly Maginnis.
Sound: Robert Eber.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 98 Minutes.