A little over a month ago, Kevin Hart was best known for being in way too many movies (five in 2014, two in 2015, four in 2016, three in 2017…), but then the flap about him hosting the Oscars (and subsequently stepping down) took over the news cycle, and the concern now is whether his latest, The Upside, can survive it. Plus there’s the other wrinkle that The Upside is actually one of those three aforementioned 2017 films; it premiered at TIFF that year and then was slated for a 2018 wide release, but… well, let’s just say The Weinstein Company was the studio behind it.
Has there been a movie with more going against it in recent memory?
It does help that Hart’s co-stars are Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman and that The Upside is a re-make of the 2011 French multi-award winner The Intouchables (which has already been remade twice before, in India and Argentina). It’s a compelling story, to be sure, and though The Upside falters a little with its cliched script, there’s plenty here to like. Whether it can overcome the heft of its baggage is another story. (*Update: The Upside earned $20 million in its first weekend and bumped the mighty Aquaman from the top spot, so… consider the baggage dropped.)
Based on a true story of paralyzed billionaire Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his unlikely caregiver, The Upside stars Cranston as Phillip Lacasse, a super-rich businessman who became a quadriplegic in a hang-gliding accident. After interviewing dozens of candidates to become his “life auxiliary”—with the help of his business director Yvonne (Kidman)—Philip decides on Dell Scott (Hart), a down-on-his-luck parolee who wandered into the job interview by accident. Phillip likes Dell’s no-nonsense approach, and the unconventional relationship is born.
Along the way, there are plenty of laughs to be had as Dell discovers what exactly goes into being a caregiver for a paralyzed person. Some are cheap and obvious (the dreaded changing of a catheter, for example), but others manage to stick the landing and genuinely help push Phil and Dell’s companionship forward.
Cranston and Kidman both turn in their usual excellent work, but Hart is really the revelation here. We all know he can do broad humor (including his trademark “confused face”), but in The Upside, we finally get to see another side. No, it’s not nearly as neck-snapping or worthy of admiration as then-comedian Robin Williams’ dramatic left-turn in 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam, but it does give us hope that Hart, in fact, has a bit of range.
It’s Jon Hartmere’s script that is the film’s one—well… downside. Alternating between pedestrian and hackneyed, it gives the actors little to work with. Too much of it relies on simplified emotions and quick and easy one-liners that evaporate much of the dramatic heft. That being said, the story itself, along with the performances, manages to hold The Upside slightly above water. It may not the first must-see movie of the year, but it certainly makes its case as a pleasant diversion—a fun and, for the most part, enjoyable remake… of a remake… of a remake.