‘The Upside’ Review: A Billionaire and His Buddy Find Reasons to be Cheerful

‘The Upside’ Review: A Billionaire and His Buddy Find Reasons to be Cheerful

January 10, 2019

What a difference a cast makes. If the director Neil Burger’s decision to have Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart play the leads in the odd-couple comedy “The Upside” — a remake of the 2012 French film “The Intouchables” — doesn’t erase the original’s sins, it blurs them just enough.

As a result, this impolitic (some might say offensive) tale of Phillip (Cranston), a wealthy, white quadriplegic, and Dell (Hart), the black parolee who restores his will to live, is surprisingly winning. Some squinting will be required to block out the race and class stereotyping, as well as the puddles of sentiment scattered throughout the highly predictable plot. Yet Jon Hartmere’s script has genuinely funny moments and is blessedly short on crassness: even a scene involving catheters and colon hygiene is less cringey than you might expect.

A warm vibe between the two men goes a long way toward sweetening the sap and contrivances. When the vastly unqualified Dell stumbles into a job as Phillip’s caregiver, he’s rewarded with an eyebrow-raising salary and a depressed patient who needs entertaining more than cosseting. Mutual benefits multiply, as the two share joints, prank the police and bond over Mozart and Aretha Franklin. Later, when Dell’s hostile ex-girlfriend and son resist his amends, a new house and car prove remarkably persuasive.

Inspired by a true story, “The Upside” isn’t shy about turning the travails of disability into punch lines — or Nicole Kidman, as Phillip’s devoted business manager, into a romantic cliché. But Hart (who needs a counterweight to his Oscar-hosting controversy) is less manic and more genuine than we’ve seen him, making Dell more than just a comic device. And Cranston never oversells his hobbled character. Now imagine if the filmmakers had summoned the imagination to swap their roles.

The Upside

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Rated PG-13 for drugs, depression and an inconvenient erection. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes

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