‘The Upside’ Review Haiku: Spinning its Wheels

HAIKU REVIEW

Awash In Cliches;
Hart And Cranston Are Buoyant;
But Their Hands Are Tied.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

Boy, does Hollywood ever love remaking foreign films. And they certainly never shy away from odd couple stories, so this was a great two birds, one stone scenario in the wake of the end of the year push and Oscar films. On one hand, it’s pretty transparent, but on the other hand it is easy to enjoy thanks to the surprising chemistry and inherent likability of Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston.

I don’t want to outright dismiss this as hollow, but it is most certainly formulaic and you will be able to figure out the majority of the arc in the first ten minutes. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as this isn’t a mystery or thriller that might hinge on a few surprises, but if you’re going to remake a hit (and I will admit, I’ve yet to see The Intouchables), some new ground should be broken and it shouldn’t come across as the latest paint-by-numbers piece cranked out by the Hollywood Machine. However, if you’re going into this just looking for a basic feel-good story, then it serves its purpose and will leave you smiling.

Hart plays Dell, a black ex-con halfassedly looking for work who stumbles into the wrong interview for a life auxiliary position, living with a rich, white quadriplegic. Of course, being the least qualified candidate, he gets the job after making an impression on Philip (Cranston) and showing that he is at least different from the litany of cookie cutter suits-and-ties that lined up before him. That is where the logical hurdles begin to get jumped, and they don’t let up. There are cliches abound (starting with the first two sentences of this paragraph), which undercuts the film from achieving its true potential. But through all of it, Hart and Cranston remain a very solid foundation to build upon. Hart is funny, but thankfully toned-down and allowed to hit some heavier emotional marks that prove he can take up roles that lean harder into dramatic territory. His family struggles create a good amount of sympathy, making him a very easy character to root for. Cranston, confined to a wheelchair and able to move only his head and neck, is powerful despite the limitations. His face is able to say quite a bit on its own, so he is a very good choice for a role like this, especially as he is able to balance humor with drama with the best of them. Philip and Dell’s eventual friendship is fun to watch despite its predictability, as they play off each other very well.

The script is where the film suffers, and the star power is what saves it. There are too many conveniences for my liking, but Hart and Cranston, as well as Nicole Kidman as the executive assistant, elevate it from forgettable territory. I’m glad to see it is doing good numbers, but this is not essential theater viewing.

GRADE: C

Written by Jon Hartmere
Directed by Neil Burger


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