Something about this movie just did not sit well. Culled from what I am sure is an inspiring true story that was made into a much better French movie, The Intouchables, this drama works overtime to tug on viewers' heartstrings without eliciting any genuine emotional response. The Upside is directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) and stars Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart as a wealthy quadriplegic and his streetwise caretaker, respectively. Relying heavily on melodrama and expected genre clichés, The Upside is buoyed somewhat by its stars but remains an underwhelming, middling drama.
Newly paroled ne'er-do-well Dell Scott (Hart) does not support his son (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) or ex-wife (Aja Naomi King) and makes little effort to find a job after his release from prison. To keep his parole officer off his back, Scott goes through the motions, visiting local employers and job fairs to get signatures to prove he went. One day he stumbles up on a job post from Yvonne Pendleton (Nicole Kidman) for her employer, Philip Lacasse (Cranston), a quadriplegic looking for a full-time "life auxiliary" caretaker. The absolute wrong choice for the job, Dell nonetheless intrigues Philip who, over the strenuous objections of Yvonne, offers to employ him. Dell eventually moves into Philip's New York City penthouse and finds himself softening to the man and genuinely caring for his needs.
The plot is about as surprising as a children's book, and the narrative includes the expected head-bumping and culture-clashing between the wealthy white Philip and African-American Dell, who has been through the revolving door of prison for the last decade. Yvonne sets up a three-strikes policy, hoping to get Dell fired, and Dell does a good job pissing off Philip, who reveals his injuries stem from a paragliding accident. There are a couple of decent moments, like Philip's revelation that his wife left him after his accident and his painful date with a woman, Lily (Julianna Margulies), whom he has never met in person. Lily arrives, seemingly understanding of Philip's condition, but soon panics and reveals she is unprepared from his round-the-clock care needs. This scene is one of the few moments that The Upside flirts with tackling real-world issues directly instead of leaning heavily on formula.
This is not a particularly subtle movie, and the melodrama is frequent. There are some uncomfortable scenes played for humor that just do not work. One that comes to mind is a lengthy rumination on Dell's repulsion at changing Philip's catheter. The revisited New York City joy ride fails to impress, too, as does the pair's final sentimental adventure. The supporting cast is totally wasted, especially Kidman in her thankless, unimportant role. I was more impressed with Cranston than Hart, whose performance is more memorable for being outside the box for the actor than actually being good. Cranston does reach some emotional highs and occasionally elevates the narrative. The Upside wants viewers to feel good about this material, but I suspect the men at the heart of the true story deserve better.
Universal's 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is crisp and clean, with expectedly good fine-object detail, impressive deep-focus wide shots and clean pans. The digitally sourced image is bright, with nicely saturated colors and appropriate highlights. I only noticed a bit of noise in nighttime scenes.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix supports the dialogue-driven film appropriately. Light ambient effects like traffic hum, city noise and weather make use of the surrounds, and the score is decently weighty. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and an HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover. You get a couple of superfluous extras: Deleted Scenes (2:20/HD); a Gag Reel (3:16/HD); Onscreen Chemistry: Kevin and Bryan (1:02/HD); Creating a Story of Possibility (0:45/HD); Bridging Divisions (0:44/HD); Embracing Positivity (0:41/HD); Presenting a Different Side of Kevin Hart (0:48/HD); and a Theatrical Trailer (2:37/HD).
Melodramatic and underwhelming, The Upside relies heavily on syrupy genre clichés to float this story of a white quadriplegic and his African-American caretaker. Skip It.