Terminal cancer notwithstanding, we should all "go out with guns blazing!" Or at least try.
That's the message of director Rob Reiner's latest, "The Bucket List."
Carter Chambers (a superb Morgan Freeman) is an easygoing, sensible and remarkably patient everyman -- a hardworking auto mechanic who has spent his life to make sure none of his three children follow in his footsteps. And it works, but at a price. At 66, with an empty nest and far too many unfulfilled yearnings, he learns he has cancer.
Hospitalized, he shares a room with none other than the cantankerous millionaire CEO of the hospital, Edward Cole, played by a sparkling, rascally Jack Nicholson. Cole, who up until his own stay, proudly proclaimed, "I run hospitals; not health spas," has also been diagnosed with cancer.
After Chambers and his wife (Beverly Todd, who exudes warmth) observe Cole's lack of family -- the only human interaction he has is with his put-upon executive assistant (a brilliant Sean Hayes), Cole blithely informs his bemused roomie that he's "never been sick before" and smugly assures him that "more people die from visitors than from diseases."
Informed they've got six months to a year to live, the odd couple reluctantly bond. To Cole, Chambers is an oblivious novelty; and for Chambers, Cole represents a ticket to his dreams, aka the "bucket list" -- his list of things to accomplish before kicking the bucket. It is when Cole accidentally gets a glimpse at said list that the story turns from grim to giddy. Alarmed at his rich but brief future, Cole convinces his calm, complacent friend he should make the list a tad more risqué.
In the tradition of his similarly stirring "Stand By Me," Reiner slowly and humorously makes clear these two could not be more different (working class/white collar; black/white, happily married 40 years/married four times) tosses those differences aside, and sends them off on a common journey of self-discovery.
Agreeing he'd prefer to avoid "being smothered by pity and grief," Chambers throws caution (and financial considerations) to the wind and the global adventure finally begins. Their travel (in Cole's private jet, of course) affords the men a great deal of time for both conversation and cards, and inevitably, reflection.
When the talk turns to their impending demise, they reveal their spiritual side. OK, Chambers does. Cole tells his grounded companion that while he envies those with faith, "I just don't have any; I resist all beliefs."
Escaping the mundane for the magical, the thrill-seeking seniors seize the day and manage to explore Paris, India, Egypt, China ... and some much more ordinary yet equally meaningful destinations and relationships.
Both men are not only rewarded but profoundly changed. For a buddy movie about two extremely sick guys with nothing in common, these two extraordinary leads make it seem like they've known each other for 30 years.
Powerful and bittersweet, the occasionally morose "Bucket" manages to make us reflect on our own unachieved goals, supposedly out-of-reach dreams, family, and of course -- our list.