Cast: Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Genevieve Angelson
Director: Neil Burger
Kevin Hart might be the perfect actor to star in a January comedy release. He’s at the point in his career where if the film is bad, you can just write it off as a typical Kevin Hart movie, but an average or good movie will do its job and keep the audience laughing for the 126 minute runtime. For The Upside, we got a movie that leans towards the former category as it’s not the best comedy ever, but realistically we could’ve something significantly worse at this time of year. A little on the long side of a runtime and filled with some surprisingly dark topics, The Upside benefits heavily from a dynamic duo of Hart and Cranston whose chemistry and comedy make this January releases one of the better ones in recent memory.
The film follows Dell Scott (Hart), a former felon out on parole who needs to find a job or he risks going back to jail. When he stumbles into a job as a life auxiliary for Phillip Lacasse (Cranston), a billionaire who is now a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident, Phillip gives him the job to spite his secretary Yvonne (Kidman) and because of Dell’s care-free attitude towards the position. Naturally, the two are exposed to a world they know very little about and must figure out how to settle their differences for the sake of their working relationship. A film like this ultimately lives or dies on the performances of its lead actors, and in this case Hart and Cranston do a phenomenal job of entertaining us with their various styles of humor and comedic timing. Hart has been typecast as a relatively predictable comedian who relies on short jokes and other generic PG-13 comedy, so it was nice seeing him in a role that had some real emotional weight at times. Cranston on the other hand is known for his dynamic range and ability to adapt to whatever show or movie he is in and shows that range yet again in this film. Cranston and Hart have an incredible ability to play off one another and use each other’s setups to create funny one-liners and ad libs that elevate the movie to a higher place than it probably should be. Outside of the comedy from the dual leads, the movie has two notable things that prevent it from becoming one of the surprise films of early 2019. The first is regarding the unusually serious tone that occurs throughout most of the film. I can understand based on Phillip and Dell’s situations that there may be some moments that make feel a bit more emotional, but the constant onslaught of these moments make the comedic moments not just a pleasantry, but a necessity. People don’t watch Kevin Hart movies to learn about the child support system and the conditions of parole, so the fact that most of the runtime is dedicated to similar topics that impact their lives can get a bit tiresome. Speaking of the runtime, that’s the other main issue that the film faces, as it goes just over the 2 hour mark and you feel every minute of this movie. Especially as the film starts to wrap up, everyone knows the general idea of how the movie will end, so it leaves the audience in a general state of, “we get it, just get on with it.” I wish this wasn’t the case since the film is still a predominantly funny movie even through all of the heavier parts, but at some points it’s like the movie wants to be mediocre and it absolutely shows.
Overall, for a January comedy, The Upside could have been a lot worse, and we have to count our blessings with the fact that it was able to generate a few laughs along the way. Hart breaks out of his usual shell to give us a couple of solid jokes while Cranston shows us that he can still deliver a funny performance regardless of the situation he’s in. If you’re looking for an average comedy to throw on when you have nothing else better to do, then The Upside should be able to fit what you’re looking for.
Overall Score: 5/10