An old friend of mine, a guy who lived with quadriplegia, told me stories about the attendants he employed over the years. Some were good, some not so much. These were much grittier stories than the one told in “The Upside” — a movie about a fabulously wealthy disabled man — and proves the old adage (which I think I just made up) that having many millions of dollars can make misfortune much easier to bear, even if only a little.
If you take “The Upside” as a complete fantasy, meant to make us feel cozier about how we could get along if only we treated each other as equals, it scores its points. There are scenes where you can see how a buddy comedy with Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston could absolutely work.
If only you could see it more often, we might have something here.
The two capable actors play off their differences in this remake of the French hit “Les Intouchables.” The story, loosely inspired by fact, looks at a wealthy man, quadriplegic because of an accident, enlisting a streetwise ex-con as his personal attendant.
You can guess how the story must take shape from there, so we won’t spend time on describing the plot. Pessimistic Phillip (Cranston) learns to enjoy life again because of cheeky motormouth Dell (Hart) and his freewheeling ways.
Other characters orbit around this unlikely pairing: Phillip’s fussy executive assistant (Nicole Kidman, somewhat overqualified for a supporting part like this), members of his staff, and a mystery woman (Julianna Margulies) included as though to remind us that not everything works out like a fairy tale in this scenario.
But it is a fairy tale. The fact that Phillip lives in a lavish Manhattan penthouse skews the entire film toward unreality, as plot difficulties can be papered over with $50,000 checks and joyrides in Phillip’s collection of Jaguars.
Director Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) takes time to build the relationship, giving his lead actors a chance to create rapport. “Breaking Bad” maestro Cranston and Oscar non-host Hart generate chemistry in the way their different worlds collide, keeping the film from becoming a completely paper-thin contraption, even when bad taste intrudes.
There’s an especially good sequence where Phillip and Dell both let their anger rage, and Dell smashes a few expensive knick-knacks. Things actually get real for a moment, and the actors can handle the transition.
If “The Upside” had more of that, we might have a movie. But by the end, when the two guys literally start flying, fantasy has completely taken over.
“The Upside” (2 stars)
A fabulously wealthy disabled man (Bryan Cranston) bonds with his ex-con attendant (Kevin Hart) in this feel-good buddy comedy. The actors build good comic rapport, and generate a couple of scenes where things get real, but otherwise this is strictly fantasy.
Rating: PG-13, for language, subject matter
Opening: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall