The Upside is a Hollywood remake of the hit 2011 French film, The Intouchables. As in most retreads of French art, the copy doesn’t quite match the quality of the original. I did laugh hysterically at the awkward physical comedy, enough to warrant a recommendation. Stars Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston’s substantial chemistry makes up for the overwhelming melodrama. The Upside rarely deviates from tired racial tropes. The black and white characters draw firmly within the socioeconomic lines. The story of their disparate friendship is meaningful, but not told in a sophisticated way.
Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) has recently been paroled from prison. He needs to prove that he’s been actively looking for work. Chance and circumstance leads him to interview as a home health attendant for a quadriplegic billionaire, Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston). Dell is hired for the job, much to the chagrin and horror of Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), Phillip’s business manager.
The poor ex-con liberates the handicapped, wealthy financier. Phillip’s zeal for life is energized by the burgeoning friendship with Dell. The pair bring out the best in each other as they try to overcome their flaws. Dell has failed as a father and husband. Phillip has let his accident cocoon him from life’s pleasures. Their mutual awakening becomes bumpy when Phillip faces the realistic challenges of romance.
Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) squeezes every ounce of comedy from the set-up. A woefully unqualified smart-ass changing the catheter of a paralyzed man is knockdown hilarious. Similar scenes sprinkled throughout the film milk the premise. The gag never gets old. It’s a welcome change from the sappy monologues and dreary back stories of the characters. Burger needed a more even hand in the exposition. The Upside swings from frowns to chuckles without much road in between.
Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston work well together, but are pigeonholed by the rigidity of their characters. Hart’s caustic ignorance as Dell becomes annoying. He is oblivious to manners or discretion. Dell’s buffoonish behavior changes when he enters the enlightened world of Phillip. Who on the other hand has become suicidal in his pampered prison. A loudmouthed ruffian is the only key out of his mental cage. These personality extremes play too easily into racial stereotypes. This is where The Intouchables differs. The French film addresses these issues with more finesse. While the overall plot details are the same, the way in which the characters behave are more realistic.
The Upside runs a tad long at two hours and five minutes. Kevin Hart has a tendency to go overboard. He’s most successful when director’s fine tune his delivery. Neil Burger needed to shave some off some edges to his performance. The supporting characters should be less reactionary and more engaging. The Upside is a comedy-drama, so there is a middle line between genres. It is difficult to achieve, but once again, was done successfully in the French original.
The Upside will resonate more with audiences than critics. Most people will never see, or give two hoots about the foreign language version. The Upside is humorous with a feel good resolve. Despite its palpable flaws, it leaves you on a positive note. The Upside was among the last productions of The Weinstein Company. It was bought after completion, and will be released globally by STX Entertainment.