Talk about a film that much like its central characters just can’t seem to catch a break.
“The Upside” is a remake of the 2011 French film “The Intouchables.” It follows a paralyzed billionaire (Bryan Cranston) who hires a recently paroled convict (Kevin Hart) to take care of him. Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies, and Aja Naomi King also star as Neil Burger directs.
This film initially premiered all the way back in 2017 and was going to be distributed by The Weinstein Company. Following the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations and the selling off of the company’s properties, the film was bought by STX Entertainment and Lantern Entertainment and finally received a January 2019 release. Its troubles were not over however, as its release comes at a point in time where Kevin Hart is under fire for past tweets perceived as homophobic (which resulted in him quitting his Oscar host job) and Cranston needing to defend portraying a handicapped individual (because I guess we can add acting to the list of things we’re not allowed to do in 2019). Plus, the original French film is near-and-dear to a lot of people, and they didn’t feel it needed the obligatory American remake. Now like “Green Book,” all the noise surrounding the film’s release and issues with its cast could be forgiven if the end result was a good movie; unfortunately, “The Upside” is just, fine.
Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston have an odd but endearing chemistry together, and it is by far the film’s greatest strength. They have both shown they can do humor very well, although Hart is typically yelling and throwing his hands up while Cranston is more sarcastic and dry. While I am not a fan of many of his movies, I have always said that a reserved Kevin Hart (“Think Like a Man” and “Central Intelligence” to name two) is actually not only him at his most enjoyable, but shows flashes of being a good actor. Together, Hart and Cranston share a nice back-and-forth, complimenting each other’s styles and never truly chewing scenery.
The script is a bit of a mixed bag, with a few good lines of dialogue sprinkled throughout (Hart makes sure Nicole Kidman knows they’re called “umpires” in baseball and not refs, saying “I’m just testing you” to which an irked Kidman replies “yes, you are”). However, as far as plot goes, this is incredibly familiar territory, hitting every “rich guy who has it all doesn’t have true friendship” and “recent parolee tries to get his family back together” beat that we have seen before. There is nothing inherently wrong with being cliché, however with the film failing to throw any curveballs, it begins to drag, and once we hit the two hour mark (this is 135 minutes) you really start to wonder how much is left.
Seeing as this film sat on the shelf for over a year, and a batch of reviews were published following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, it is a bit baffling that the studio wouldn’t take some time to re-edit the film and trim it a bit to fix some complaints. It’s clear that STX and co. got this on the cheap and are dumping it in the first weeks of January just to get it off their books but you should still always try and put out the best product possible, I think.
“The Upside” is an OK movie that just wears out its welcome by the end (although to be fair there was a group of women at my screening who were laughing through the whole thing and enjoyed it, so take that for what it’s worth). The chemistry between a toned-down Hart and Cranston is enough to carry the load for a while, and I actually wouldn’t mind seeing them in another project together, but the familiar and (slightly) manipulative script holds this back from being anything but a “maybe watch it on a rainy day” type recommendation.
Critic’s Rating: 5/10