Sitting atop of one of the Egyptian pyramids, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as terminally ill cancer patients, engage in a sentimental philosophical chat about life and loss. The two have decided to travel around the globe, doing whatever the heck they want; they can afford it since the Nicholson character is a billionaire CEO. The first thing to say about The Bucket List is that Rob Reiner is the rare director who can take all the wonder out of one of the seven wonders of the world. The way that the pyramid they're sitting on is lit and shot, it looks completely fake, and the one in the distance could be a rear-projection backdrop. The second thing to observe is that the conversation might be taking place almost anywhere in a coffee shop, say, or back in the dingy hospital room where Nicholson, as an aging playboy with four ex-wives, and Freeman, as a mechanic who has spent his life sacrificing for his family, first met, discovered that they had absolutely nothing in common, and decided to bond over their tragic illnesses and become friends anyway.
The biggest surprise of The Bucket List is how casually it treats the whole ''bucket list'' of wild-things-to-do-before-we-die concept. It's fun, for two minutes, to see Nicholson and Freeman jumping out of a plane, but once they've gotten tattoos and raced vintage cars (to the cloying been-there-heard-that accompaniment of ZZ Top's ''Tush''), the movie is already scraping the bottom of the bucket. Basically, they spend the rest of the time doing disease-of-the-week buddy-movie therapy against the backdrop of world landmarks. Nicholson has the benefit of playing a rascal so self-centered he veers into unpleasantness, but Freeman, as the brilliant working-class autodidact whose one ''flaw'' is that his marriage suffered from empty-nest syndrome, reminds us once again that it's long past time this actor played someone who isn't a saint. If he and Jack had traded roles, there might have been one thing about the drably tender Bucket List that surprised you. C