Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Upside

Title: The Upside

Describe This Movie In One Venture Bros. Quote:

PHANTOM LIMB: No one retires from Phantom Limb's shit-list!
Brief Plot Synopsis: Ex-con tries to raise quad client's spirits with tough love and weed. Guess which one works?

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 Silver Bullets out of 5.

Tagline: "Based on a true story."

Better Tagline: "Not endorsed by the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) just wants his application paperwork signed so his parole officer will get off his back. Quadriplegic philanthropist Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) is looking for a new assistant, and sees ... something in the wholly unqualified Dell, so he hires him. Soon, Dell is showing his employer the joys of marijuana and Aretha Franklin, and Phillip learns he had the strength inside himself to walk the whole time.

Just seeing if you were paying attention.

"Critical" Analysis:
 On the surface, The Upside seems an odd movie to be unceremoniously dumped in the cinematic potter's field that is January. Based on the 2011 French movie The Intouchables, its release was pulled from March of last year due to Harvey' Weinstein's, uh, legal woes. It was subsequently acquired by STX Entertainment and Lantern Entertainment, who evidently decided to cut bait as quickly as possible. And both are probably none too pleased about the shit show accompanying Kevin Hart's abortive appointment as Oscars host.

But does the movie really deserve to be treated this shoddily? To quote Reverend Lovejoy, "Short answer: yes with an 'if,' long answer: no with a 'but.'"

The short answer is The Upside is an inferior copy of a movie that was already pretty cheesy to begin with, falling prey to many of that movie's flaws even as it manufactures a few of its own. We still have another troubled white character who only discovers the true power of Christmas (or whatever) thanks to a black associate who, in turn, can only elevate his position in life when his potential is realized (and validated) by the white dude. Oh, and this time there's also a lover's quarrel of sorts to goose the film over two hours.

So "if" we only look at those weaknesses, it would seem right and proper to condemn The Upside.

But Cranston and Hart have some chemistry together, and while we've come to expect solid performances from the former in even the worst movies (*cough* Total Recall *cough*), a subdued Hart is the real surprise here. His usual histrionics are limited to what you'd probably seen in the trailers, and if he doesn't have the range to truly bring Dell to life, at least he's not screaming the whole time.

Nicole Kidman also has a role as Phillip's beleaguered executive assistant Yvonne, because if you want to secure that Best Actress nomination for Destroyer, this is a pretty damn good juxtaposition.

But then, it's hard to imagine anyone who could breathe life into Neil (Insurgent) Burger and Jon Hartmere's limp production. The eventual conflict between Phillip and Dell is laughably forced, as are the half-assed bromides about "following your passion." At least Hart demonstrates several new actions he can warn his son away from to prevent gayness. These include:

 > Changing a catheter
 > Performing the "bowel program"
 > Giving a guy a shower

In the end, January is as good a place an any for The Upside, which can't leverage enough from its leads to keep us from asking — less than a year after The Hate U Give, BlackKklansman, and Blindspotting — why we're still making movies like this.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar