The Bucket List

Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, and Sean Hayes star in a film written by Justin Zackham and directed by Rob Reiner.

Morgan Freeman may be smiling, but <em>The Bucket List</em> seems to pigeonhole him into the "magical, mystical negro" stereotype that gives him supernatural powers that only serve to help out his white buddy.

Look out America; it looks like the Boomers are discovering mortality. It’s about time, too. Unfortunately, however, with pandering films like The Bucket List reflecting the generation’s growing anxieties, they’ll likely greet the Big Nothing more like a bubble bath than a plunge into mystery. Director Rob Reiner may seem a good choice for shuffling-off-the-mortal-coil reflections-his early successes like Stand By Me and Princess Bride making him a minor mythmaker when addressing issues like innocence lost or the state that’s only mostly dead, which isn’t really so bad it turns out. And he cast the right actors as archetypes: Jack Nicholson, the arch hedonistic narcissist, versus Morgan Freeman, who has taken to playing both God and a military officer with a voice so dulcet he could probably narrate the phonebook. But that all quickly devolves into junk culture. Together, the duo becomes a cross-section of the television sitcom version of America. And, unfortunately, Reiner wraps the two actors in cheesy boy humor so thick-smashing cars and sex for sport with airline stewardesses-we rarely get near anything like honest thought.

Besides the suffusing smarm, the film perpetuates something Spike Lee recently called the “magical, mystical negro” stereotype; usually a black character with somewhat supernatural powers used for the benefit of the white person in the plot. (Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, Scatman Crothers in The Shining.) Freeman’s noble working-class character doesn’t exactly do the miraculous, but he does buttress family value morality, redeeming the emptiness of WASP wealth-accumulation. Then there’s the opening and closing monologues, which ostensibly set up a little surprise. Yet only a person speaking from beyond the grave could deliver these speeches. (You can guess who that would be.)

It would be churlish to say this film offers no value. America ruthlessly avoids the topic and shrouds it in phrases like “passed away.” Some filmed moments, like a conversation about God and atheism in a jet over the North Pole resonate briefly. It’s just too bad we can’t try to consider life and death without angels of any color intervening.

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