January is the leftover movie month. With the holidays behind us, theaters are overtaken with films expected to make whatever cash they can now that the big titles are fading out and kids are headed back to school. Which brings us to the supposed comedy, The Upside. Teaming up Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston wasn’t the worst idea — they do have a little chemistry — but Neil Burger’s pedestrian direction and Jon Hartmere’s tonally scattershot screenplay, waste their potential.
Considering the film took eight years to get made — ironic since it’s a remake of a French box office smash hit, and based on a true story — it’s too bad we aren’t getting the Paul Feig version. Apparently nothing from his script was used—and he didn’t wind up behind the camera either.
Dell Scott (Hart) is on parole and needs a job. His parole officer is threatening to throw him back in the slammer if he doesn’t at least show proof he’s been looking. An opportunity falls in his lap when he interviews for what he thinks is a janitorial position. Turns out, he’s really applying to be a life auxiliary for the super rich quadriplegic Phillip Lacasse (Cranston). Much to Phillip’s executive Yvonne’s (Nicole Kidman) chagrin, Phillip hires Dell because he has a DNR which Yvonne failed to follow and thinks Dell would. Together, the two learn life lessons as Dell helps Phillip overcome the grief of his wife’s death, and Dell finally catches a break to prove himself to his son, Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and Anthony’s mom, Latrice (Aja Naomi King).
Director Burger has never been one to have a massive runaway hit. The closest may be the first Divergent film — which shows his films have never been great. While The Illusionist could be considered his best film, it’s gonna take a lot more than star power to show he’s upping his game. The Upside never makes you care enough for either character and nor does it reach a natural end point. The Upside is a crowd-pleaser for the easily emotionally manipulated. They’ll laugh at the easiest jokes — which includes everything from faking seizures, to slavery, to the disabled, and sexual harassment. It almost feels like it was written years ago and they never bothered to write another draft.
Cranston and Hart are fine — all Hart controversy aside — but neither are given enough to develop their characters. Kidman is completely wasted and makes you wonder what she was thinking starring in this after having just been in Destroyer, Boy Erased, Big Little Lies, and Aquaman. It’s the year’s most bit part and literally could have been played by anyone else. At least The Upside is never horrible or boring. It’s fine for what it is, but considering STX Entertainment is dumping it in January, it’s clear even they understand no one will remember they even saw it come next week.