A remake of the 2011 French film 'The Intouchables', 'The Upside' tracks a recently paroled ex-convict (Hart) who is hired by a quadriplegic billionaire (Cranston) as a live-in carer. The pair strike up an unlikely friendship, with each introducing the other to the things that make life worth living: music, hot dogs, paragliding, and smoking weed. Good Lord, this thing is over two hours long?
'The Upside' is a light comedy-drama full of Hart - Kevin Hart, that is. Which is to say that your mileage with this one may vary, depending on your tolerance for the fun-sized Chris Tucker wannabe. While ostensibly a two-hander between himself and Bryan Cranston, the film, and its humour, is built around Hart's character, Dell, and the actor’s comedic style of delivery. This involves gags about his blackness, his masculinity and sexual prowess, while also attempting to give him some hefty ‘husband/father’ responsibilities to live up to, in order to round out his arc. Fans of his physical and over-the-top humour may enjoy in watching Dell discovering opera music, creating avant-garde artworks, and using his gift of the gab to impress police officers, stuffy rich people, and of course, his wife and son. It’s a shame the material he’s given isn’t funnier – or, merely, funny.
The film does little to update the clichés that infected the original film, the result being that 'The Upside' feels like a throwback in the worst possible way. The film leans heavily on tired racial stereotypes and - in one excruciating extended scene - homophobia and gay panic, to elicit laughs. The action shrieks to a halt in one particular, tonally-bizarre sequence, in which Dell angrily refuses to say the word 'penis' and considers the act of changing another man's catheter as a threat to his heterosexuality. In the film, this aggressive homophobic attitude earns him a warning he might lose his new, high-paying job; which plays with some dramatic irony for anyone tracking Kevin Hart's real-life career recently.
The film’s cast is rounded out by some top-tier talent, the presence of whom only makes sense if a role in a remake of a hit European comedy-drama was included in the Oscars gift bags several years ago (see also: the long-feted 'Toni Erdmann' remake). Nicole Kidman turns it in as a foil for the inexperienced but joyful Dell, playing a woman who is good at her job and hence, no fun at all; while Juliana Marguiles fills a thankless role that manages to be insulting to both Cranston’s character’s disability, and her character’s own mental illness.
Even the filmmaking is subpar. The dialogue frequently drags, delivering heavy exposition with the effort of something that appears to have been run through Google Translate twice; while a climactic paragliding scene is broken up clumsily in a way that reduces the emotional impact it potentially could have had.
Despite passable chemistry between the leads, the film can’t overcome the outdated, even bad-taste humour that steers its over-tired narrative. Perhaps 'The Upside' of having watched this film is never having to see it again.