SP Review: 'The Upside' unites Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston to mixed results

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King gives 'The Upside' 5/10 stars

Oh January, what an interesting month for film you are. 

Along with the wider releases of awards contenders and the overflow of holiday box office hits, there are the scattered new releases hoping to make an impression early on, such as "The Upside."

The film, a remake of the 2011 French film "The Intouchables," benefits from an impressive cast despite facing production delays.

I have not seen the original film to be able to say if the remake does justice to its predecessor. But in judging the new release on its own, I found that, while it tries to portray a heartwarming story with a good central relationship, it winds up feeling shallower than it should. 

The film focuses on a former convict named Dell Scott (played by Kevin Hart), who is looking for work to support his estranged wife (played by Aja Naomi King) and son (played by Jahi Di'Allo Winston). 

While attempting to get signatures for his parole officer, Scott meets wealthy businessman Phillip Lacasse (played by Bryan Cranston), who recently became a quadriplegic in a hang gliding accident. 

Impressed with his determination, Lacasse hires Scott as his caretaker, much to the dismay of Lacasse's business associate and friend, Yvonne Pendleton (played by Nicole Kidman). 

The main dynamic between Cranston and Hart should be noted, as it is probably the main thing that will keep you hooked. 

Cranston's performance is not shocking, as it was solid as always. But Hart actually surprised me a bit. It is nice to see him in a role that requires a bit more subdued performance for a change.

The movie rests on the idea that the two characters can work off each other. While it does not always succeed, there are a select few moments in the film that capture this comradery as exciting, including a surprisingly impactful moment at a birthday party.

The downside of "The Upside" is that, for whatever chemistry the characters may have, the film goes absolutely nowhere with it. 

While the film had the opportunity to address the broader societal issues that could be discussed in a story about a rich white businessman relying on a black former criminal, it fails to do so in a meaningful manner.

Director Neil Burger and screenwriter Jon Hartmere do not seem to have enough faith in their audience to address the issues. Instead, they try to play for laughs as much as possible with some pretty mixed implications. 

In one scene, Lacasse tries to persuade his friend to buy a painting that Scott made, which is a crudely done pit bull with an arrow shooting out of its mouth. 

The scene is intended to get a cheap laugh at the idea of the friend buying the ridiculous painting. But it ends up implying Lacasse is just using Scott for his own gain, even though Scott is one of the few people he trusts. 

While Lacasse certainly comes across as dryly sarcastic throughout the movie, the scene makes him seem more genuinely sour than his facade entails.

With one exception in the third act, the film takes a seemingly naive look at issues like race, class and society's relationship with people with disabilities. Even though the premise practically begs for the film to explore the issues, it settles for the most basic of cliches.

The female characters of the film are suspiciously written to be subservient to the male characters, including Kidman's Pendleton, who is clearly intended to bring more to the table than the story allows her. 

The film also seems to have an endless obsession with music as a point of comparing cultures. But when boiled down, the point it makes essentially reads as "oh, maybe Aretha Franklin is not so bad" and comes across as pretentious.

If the excitement of seeing Hart and Cranston together does not appeal to you – and with the controversy around both it understandably might not – chances are that "The Upside" may feel dragged down by a story and direction that have other priorities than saying something unique or meaningful.

There is definitely an audience for this film, and there are certainly a lot worse films in this vein that wish they had this kind of chemistry. But for a story like this, with the kind of source material this film had, it could have been portrayed more intelligently. 

Overall, I give "The Upside" 5/10 stars.

Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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