“The Upside,” a remake of the smash 2011 French hit “The Intouchables,” is little more than a standard-issue buddy comedy. The jokes are lame, save for an odd wisecrack or sight gag, and the characters walking-talking clichés. As for the potentially inspired pairing of the two leads? Let’s just say Kevin Hart (“Central Intelligence”) and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) are no Kevin Hart and The Rock.
The movie, which has been finished and circling in a Weinstein Co. fallout holding pattern for two years, is based on a true story. Cranston is Phillip, a wealthy Manhattan businessman who specializes in turning around failing companies. A quadriplegic since a paragliding accident, Phillip hires Dell (Hart), a streetwise ex-con, to be his live-in caretaker. Thus begins an unlikely and surprising friendship despite their economic and racial differences. Phillip can’t move his arms or legs and controls his wheelchair with his neck. Dell becomes Phillip’s “right- and left-hand man” and helps him start to feel like his old self. In turn, Phillip gives Dell a shot at a better future, mentors him in a business start-up and supplies him with the chance to win back his son (Jahi Di’Allo Winston).
Director Neil Burger (“Limitless”) and first-time writer Jon Hartmere merely go through the motions, serving up an unsatisfying mix of slapstick and sentimentality that elicits more yawns than laughs. The formulaic script opens with a present-day situation and then flashes back six months to show how Hart’s down-on-his-luck Dell stumbles into the $2,600 a week job. Gangsta-in-Park-Avenue shenanigans ensue, as Dell tries to figure out how the other half lives with their fancy German-speaking rainfall showers and opera outings. Instantly, Dell clashes with Phillip’s stiff and uptight assistant, Yvonne (Nicole Kidman). Other supporting characters include an attractive (naturally) physical therapist (Golshifteh Farahani), a snotty (naturally) neighbor (Tate Donovan), a mystery woman whom Phillip maintains an “epistolary relationship,” and a dead wife.
Neither Hart nor Cranston can generate much in the way of excitement, as the duo mostly just bicker and bond while carrying out contrived bits, like changing catheters, scoring with a pair of hookers, getting stoned in Central Park, and when the munchies hit, order 14 hot dogs. The film rests on the sturdy shoulders of Hart, who delivers an earnest performance in spite of the flimsy script that works its way up to the inevitable third-act falling out and subsequent redemption.
Hart, currently attempting to rehabilitate from homophobic tweets that nixed his gig as this year’s Oscar host, scored major box-office successes with “Jumanji,” “Ride Along” and “Central Intelligence.” But this time his talents are underserved by a script that fails to generate the same manic humor and heart that have become his trademark. Ditto for Cranston, whose sly wit is all but neutered. “The Upside” comes to a dead halt whenever the story shifts into dramatic territory to dole out trite life lessons. The changes are jarring and the circumstances rote. The film wears out its welcome long before its two-hour runtime ends. There’s just too much downside in “The Upside.”
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies, Golshifteh Farahani, Tate Donovan, Aja Naomi King, Genevieve Angelson.
(PG-13 for suggestive content and drug use)