Dir: Rob Reiner. US. 2007. 93 mins.
It's never less than entertaining to watch Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman spar with each other even if the vehicle they have chosen to do it in is a soft-centred Hollywood life lesson about old fellas battling cancer. As directed by Rob Reiner, whose once stellar career has languished of late (Alex & Emma, The Story Of Us, Rumor Has It), The Bucket List feels incongruously sugar-coated in an era of stripped-down movies about death and loss. This is more Stepmom than Million Dollar Baby.

The star wattage and sentimental tone will help this film at the domestic box office and it could perform along the lines of another geriatric ensemble Space Cowboys which grossed $90m in 2001. International ticket sales will be less stellar, especially since the film is unlikely to be a major player in the awards season.

This is that breed of glossy Hollywood movie where nothing rings true: it's part buddy movie, part implausible comedy, part sappy call to make the most of life, with a little Pretty Woman financial wish fulfillment thrown in. A certain amount of restraint has been employed in the execution, especially in the performances of the two old pros, but pretty much everything in the script by Justin Zackham is designed to manipulate the tearducts.

Freeman plays Carter Chambers, a car mechanic diagnosed with cancer after a hard life spent raising his children and working hard at his job. Nicholson plays a corporate billionaire called Edward Cole who runs cost-effective hospitals and is compelled to share Carter's room in one of them when he is too diagnosed with the illness.

The two have an uneasy relationship to start with, but become friendly. So, when one day Edward reads a list Carter has written of things he wanted to do before kicking the bucket (hence the title), he determines that the two of them check out and cross off the items on the list one by one.

They start by jumping out of an aeroplane and going speed racing. Then, boarding Edward's private jet in Los Angeles, the two travel around the world (or at least some expertly created CG-backdrops) - to Cairo to see the pyramids, to the Taj Mahal in India, to the Himalayas, to Hong Kong, to the south of France. Carter discovers that Edward is estranged from his daughter but Edward refuses outright to attempt a reconciliation before his death.

By the time Carter decides it's time to return home to his wife (Beverly Todd) and face his worried family, the two friends have fallen out over the issue of Edward's daughter. Naturally they are reconciled, but only when one of them starts to succumb to the fatal illness.

Neither actor is stretched particularly by their character or the material - Nicholson is effervescent as the cantankerous Edward and Freeman full of wisdom and gravitas as Carter - but their very presence is enough to keep the movie watchable.
Hayes has a small, colourless supporting role as Edward's personal assistant and Morrow is barely evident as the put-upon doctor, although Todd makes an impression as Carter's exasperated wife.

Production companies
Two Ton Films

Worldwide distribution
Warner Bros

Executive producers
Travis Knox
Justin Zackham
Jeffrey Stott
Craig Zadan
Neil Meron
Alan Greisman
Rob Reiner

Justin Zackham

Director of photography
John Schwartzman

Production designer
Bill Brzeski

Robert Leighton

Marc Shaiman

Main cast:
Jack Nicholson
Morgan Freeman
Sean Hayes
Beverly Todd
Rob Morrow