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D: Neil Burger / 126m

Cast: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Aja Naomi King, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Golshifteh Farahani, Genevieve Angelson, Tate Donovan, Julianna Margulies

Parolee Dell Scott (Hart) is fresh out of prison and trying his best (which isn’t much) to avoid going straight back in. Tasked with finding a job as quickly as possible by his parole officer, Dell attends what he thinks is an interview for a cleaning job. The number of waiting applicants surprises him, but when time drags on and he’s in danger of not picking up his son, Anthony (Winston), from school on time, he crashes the interviews in order to get a signature to say that he’s attended. But the job proves to be a life auxiliary for ex-businessman Phillip Lacasse (Cranston), who is paralysed from the neck down. Against the better wishes of Phillip’s associate, Yvonne (Kidman), Phillip takes to Dell’s unconventional attitude, and decices to hire him. Unsure at first, Dell’s decision is made for him thanks to a row with his wife, Latrice (King), over his inability to properly provide for her and Anthony. Realising that being a carer for Phillip could solve a lot of his problems, Dell accepts the job, but soon finds that he’s not quite as prepared for it as he thought…

The third remake of the French movie Intouchables (2011), The Upside reaches us long after its first screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017. Caught up in the scandal involving Harvey Weinstein, the movie’s planned release in March 2018 was shelved until it was picked up for distribution by STX Entertainment and Lantern Entertainment (the successor to the Weinstein Company). Now the only question is: was it worth the wait? Sadly, the answer is, not really. This is a movie that is almost entirely depth-free, and dramatically inert. It’s a standard Hollywood interpretation of the kind of feelgood story that comes along every now and then and which, thanks to its sincerity and innate positivity, tugs at the heartstrings. But as usual in Hollywood, this kind of narrative can’t be allowed to exist in and of itself; it has to be treated with a level of over-simplification that five year olds would find frustrating, and slathered with enough gooey sentimentality to induce Type 2 diabetes in the unsuspecting viewer. There’s often a formula to these kinds of stories, but the best versions try their best to wrest something new from the material. Here the formula is embraced wholeheartedly… and then some.

This leaves the viewer with two choices: to either go with the flow and settle for spending an occasionally amusing, occasionally effective couple of hours that will leave them unmoved, or to rail against every predictable plot and story development for being so obvious. Either will involve a tremendous amount of effort on the viewer’s part, and neither will see them coming away singing the movie’s praises. For despite the chemistry between Hart and Cranston, and their performances – which at least stop the material from becoming too sappy – this is very much a movie that coasts for most of its running time, and which struggles to find anything to say. Burger does what he can, but someone really should have stepped in at the first draft stage and told screenwriter Jon Hartmere that a by-the-numbers approach wasn’t what was needed (though you do get the feeling that’s exactly what the producers wanted). Cranston is good value as always, and Hart, trying to broaden his range, is okay, but he doesn’t do anything to make us think that there’s a serious actor inside him who’s desperately seeking the dramatic limelight. And then there’s Kidman, on something of a role at the moment, but so under-utilised it’s hard to work out why she said yes. Like much about this movie, her presence begs a secondary question: was it worth the effort?

Rating: 5/10 – though its leads work well together, and there are some good comedic moments in amongst the otherwise routine material, The Upside is, unfortunately, a movie that doesn’t live up to its title; with issues around disability, class and race carefully ignored in favour of making this purely a feelgood movie, even the obligatory falling out between Dell and Phillip feels as manufactured as everything else.

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