Rich man, poor man; white man, black man. If anything can make them unlikely lifelong friends in 125 minutes or less, it’s a Hollywood bromance. The Upside is actually inspired by the hugely successful 2011 film Intouchables, which was in turn based on the true story of a quadriplegic French billionaire and his French-Algerian caretaker.
Here, Bryan Cranston is Phillip Lacasse, a wealthy businessman left paralyzed after a freak hang-gliding accident; Kevin Hart’s Dell Scott is a freshly furloughed ex-con just looking for a signature for his parole officer when he walks into Phillip’s palatial Manhattan apartment, assuming he’s been called there for a janitorial job he already knows he doesn’t want.
Phillip, bored and depressed by the roomful of earnest applicants for a live-in aide, defiantly chooses Dell against the clear wishes of his frosty girl Friday, Yvonne (Nicole Kidman in a mostly thankless role). Dell is unconvinced (“I think your plantation is bananas, but I ain’t looking to be anybody’s servant”) — until he hears the salary.
Director Neil Burger (Divergent, Limitless) puts the pair through their narrative paces: Phillip will expose Dell to the wonders of kumquats and opera and modern art; Dell will go quid pro quo with weed, dollar hot dogs, and the Queen of Soul.
The racial politics feel almost willfully retro, but the actors’ charisma cuts through: Forced to work strictly from the neck up, Cranston is just the right amount of gruff; Hart, aside from a deeply unnecessary catheter scene, gives a gratifyingly prickly and vulnerable performance. Somewhere beneath this passable-enough Upside, there’s a better, sharper movie for them both. B–