Remake happy Hollywood goes intercontinental, casting its eyes to France for the new Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart film. “The Upside’s” based-on-a-true-story” odd couple story of a wealthy quadriplegic and his ex-con caretaker is lifted from “The Intouchables,” a movie so popular it was voted France’s cultural event of 2011.
Cranston plays Phillip Lacosse, an author, who, through clever investments is “richer than Jay-Z.” A hand-gliding accident has left him paralyzes, a prisoner in his fancy Park Avenue apartment. When parolee Dell Scott (Hart) shows up on his doorstep looking for a job Phillip hires him, even though he has no qualifications whatsoever. As an ex-con Dell will, Phillip figures, enforce his Do Not Resuscitate order. “Is that why you asked me instead of those other guys?” Dell asks. “‘Cuz you thought I would DNR your ass?”
Also in the mix are Dell’s ex wife Latrice (Aja Naomi King) their son Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and Phillip’s devoted assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman).
Despite the fatalistic Phillip’s disinterest in life he gradually comes to life, spewing a series of dad jokes and doling out practical advice. The two men bond, learning from one another. Dell learns an appreciation of his boss’s open mind—both in curiosity and acceptance—while Phillip is exposed to Aretha Franklin, weed (for medical purposes) and New York City hot dog stands. Each is enriched as Phil rediscovers his lust for life and Dell becomes a better father and husband.
What “The Upside” lacks in originality—every plot point is telegraphed to point where anyone, even if they had never seen a movie before, will see where this is going—it almost makes up in committed performances from its leads.
Hart is unusually restrained, heaping on the earnestness and the occasional bit of slapstick. He earns a few laughs although a “funny” catheter scene isn’t going to bolster Hart’s bruised rep in the LGBTQ community.
Cranston does wonders with a performance that comes completely from the shoulders up. His expressive face conveys a range of emotions from utter joy to frustration to unbridled rage it’s a performance that subtly brings us into Phillips thought processes.
Only Kidman is wasted in a role that asks very little of her except to nod, do a little dance and add some heft to the marquee.
Despite strong performances “The Upside” is a slight feel good movie that values melodramatic and manipulation over real emotion.