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The Upside – Movie Review

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The Upside – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Taking a successful foreign film and making a new version to appeal to English speaking audiences is an expected Hollywood tradition at this point. It was inevitable the French box-office smash The Intouchables would make the transition. Director Neil Burger has naturally attempted to make a crowd-pleasing and heartwarming film with The Upside, but the final result is ultimately rather ordinary. Despite the best efforts from the cast, it never rises above okay and also suffers from editing and pacing problems as it goes through the story’s expected beats. It is ultimately Kevin Hart, providing a bit of a departure from his usual performances, who is given the most to do and becomes The Upside’s biggest asset.

Hart makes his parolee Dell a sympathetic character, while still having the flaws he has to overcome by the end of the film. While his usual shtick occasionally pops up, Hart otherwise tones down his more frequent acting tics. He is given a proper arc as he attempts to reconnect with his wife and son. Bryan Cranston’s quadriplegic billionaire Phillip is not nearly as fleshed out. He mostly serves to progress Dell’s arc, rather than his own. The two actors do have solid chemistry and play off each other well, but there is not much under the surface.

Nicole Kidman’s Yvonne is primarily required to serve as a stick-in-the-mud and provide the necessary exposition to Dell. It’s a familiar character type The Upside doesn’t do much with. At a little over two hours, the film also runs far too long for what is a rather simplistic and thin story. The film could have easily been fit into a ninety minute runtime. An extended party scene especially could have been cut down and not affected the overall plot. Burger also makes the unusual decision of editing a third act scene into the opening sequence, which serves little purpose to the overall narrative.

Neil Burger’s direction is unremarkable, but it’s competent enough as he mostly lets the actors do their thing. The sentimental scenes don’t click in quite the way he intends, but the comedic scenes occasionally muster some laughs. It’s mostly Hart who is given the best bits, including a scene where he tries to utilise a high tech shower system. However, the parts where Dell and Phillip get high merely serve to extend the runtime and rely on clichéd stoner humour as they giggle their way through the scenes. The Upside attempts to construct a love story for Phillip, but the whole subplot tends to feel contrived and forced.

The Upside is an ultimately inconsequential film that doesn’t do anything special, preferring to stay in its safe quarters. The decision to remake The Intouchables for an American audience is mainly an opportunity for Kevin Hart to stretch his wings and he does well in the lead role. He is a talented actor and, like many comedians, is adept at drama. It’s a disappointment the script couldn’t have been stronger or that Bryan Cranston wasn’t given more to do as he is primarily directed to react to whatever Hart does. The film has reportedly been edited since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival over a year ago, but it could have used a few additional snips here and there.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison