Film review: The Upside clogged with cloying sentiment despite Cranston and Hart

Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart in The Upside
Damon Smith

HOLLYWOOD has a long and inglorious history of remaking hit foreign films for English-speaking audiences and losing the subtleties of the original in translation.

Henri-Georges Clouzot's gnarly 1955 thriller Les Diaboliques resurfaced in 1996 as hilariously hoary hokum starring Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani and Kathy Bates while Wim Wenders's haunting 1987 romantic fantasy Wings Of Desire failed to take flight as the syrupy City Of Angels with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan.

Dutch writer-director George Sluizer foolishly refurbished his deeply disturbing 1998 psychological thriller Spoorloos as The Vanishing with Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock, and Queen Latifah failed to pick up any laughs in the 2004 reboot of the turbo-charged French action comedy Taxi.

A similar fate befalls The Upside. This glossy reworking of the award-winning 2011 French buddy comedy The Intouchables is clogged with cloying sentiment despite the best efforts of Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart to energise their emotional misfits.

They occasionally come close to capturing the on-screen spark of Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy, but scriptwriter John Hartmere and director John Hartmere are frequently waylaid by malnourished subplots involving parental neglect and unspoken romance.

Fun-loving billionaire Phillip Lacasse (Cranston) is seriously injured in a paragliding accident and returns to his plush Manhattan penthouse a quadriplegic.

Unable to enjoy the trappings of his dizzying success, Phillip wallows in misery and self-loathing, which he lavishes on full-time carers until they give up on him too.

The only person who refuses to surrender is brilliant businesswoman Yvonne (Kidman). She puts her career on hold to mastermind Phillip's day-to-day existence. Yvonne holds interviews for a live-in carer and is horrified when Dell hires foul-mouthed parolee Dell Scott (Hart), who is wholly unqualified for the hefty responsibility.

Dell gladly takes the position because it will bring in enough cash to pay child support to his old flame Latrice (Aja Naomi King), who has been single-handedly raising their son (Jahi Di'Allo Winston).

The uncouth ex-con from the Bronx agrees to Phillip's terms – "No extraordinary measures if I stop breathing" – and a touching odd couple bond manifests between two men from opposite sides of the class divide.

While the billionaire introduces his carer to opera and a fine car collection in the basement, Dell helps Phillip to see beyond his motorised wheelchair with the help of marijuana and the lyrical wisdom of Aretha Franklin.

The Upside veers between heart-tugging sentiment and broad comedy including one wince-inducing interlude with a catheter.

Key scenes from the original are dutifully replayed, such as the opening police car chase that catalyses a flashback to events that bring together the central double-act.

Cranston and Hart possess a roughly hewn charm together while Oscar winner Kidman is only permitted to let her character's heart beat openly in closing frames.

THE UPSIDE (12A, 126 mins) Drama/Comedy/Romance. Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Aja Naomi King, Jahi Di'Allo Winston. Director: Neil Burger

RATING: 5.5/10

Released: January 11 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

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