Actually, I’m not gonna kick The Bucket List at all. As the credits rolled last night, I was shocked: I just saw a good Rob Reiner movie! A new one!
I mean, the guy made seven good movies in a row in the ‘80s: This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing (cute fun, if not great), Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery and A Few Good Men. That’s a hell of a string. The middle four are classics and each in a different genre: coming-of-age, family/fantasy, romantic comedy and horror. And, of course, Spinal Tap is the mother of all mockumentaries.
Damn. It looks even more impressive now.
Then came North, with Elijah Wood. But he rebounded, sorta, with The American President and Ghosts of Mississippi. Then some shorts, a documentary, a TV sitcom and three dogs in a row! The Story of Us, Alex & Emma and Rumor Has It.
Reiner has resisted doing a sequel to Spinal Tap, reportedly because he doesn’t like to repeat himself. Maybe he’s easily bored, and hence the genre switching. Dunno. But here we are in 2008 and he made himself a new sort-of Sure Thing. It has the most in common with that film, I would say than his earlier films.
It’s a buddy picture. It’s a road picture. It’s an old-fart picture that doesn’t use old-age humor as a crutch (as seen in Matthau and Lemmon’s last movies, as well as the President movie where James Garner fills in for the late Matthau.) It’s funny in parts, but not hilarious, and really not very wacky, which is how the commercials portray it.
It’s also touching and sentimental, occasionally maudlin, loaded with clichés and has gratuitous Morgan Freeman narration.
But damn, you have to be trying–hard–not to be moved by Freeman and Nicholson who are absolute powerhouses without stage-grabbing or scenery chewing. It’s not surprising to me that the critics panned it: Like Reiner’s other great work, it’s just classic movie-going fun. Not shallow, really, but completely unpretentious. Even when the movie goes to the top of the Himalaya’s, you get the feeling that you’ve just seen a nice story, not an “important” one.
And unlike many of today’s hot directors, Reiner doesn’t make this movie into some indulgent vanity pic, clocking in at 97 minutes. He doesn’t shout “Look at me! I’m so talented!” Maybe, at this point, he doesn’t have that luxury, but he didn’t do it in his prime either.
So, critics have bashed it and audiences aren’t turning out to see it, particularly–though if I understand the numbers on IMDB, it only dropped 20% in its second week, and has made it’s $40M budget back. It could become a sleeper hit.
It certainly works as a remedy for all the Oscar-nominated films. You can go to the movies and just have fun.