By Philip Wuntch – former <em>Dallas Morning News</em> film critic

One of the great things about being an "emeritus" film critic is that I can pick which movies to see and when to see them. For two weeks, I’d been avoiding "The Bucket List." After watching the trailer, I was convinced I’d be able to predict every sweet and sour plot development in this dramedy. (For the uninitiated, that’s the informal term for comedy-drama.)

And predict them, I could. But what I couldn’t predict is that the movie more or less works on its own smooth, sleek terms. It’s not half-bad, and actually it’s more than half-good. If you see the movie, do so with lowered expectations, and you’ll enjoy it more.

Rob Reiner’s direction is mercilessly heavy-handed. But "The Bucket List" is an actor’s showcase, and the two lead actors are Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. As even the most infrequent moviegoer must know by now, the two icons play cancer patients who share a hospital room. Nicholson’s a heartless billionaire. Freeman’s a soulful car mechanic. Nicholson, in fact, owns the company that bought the hospital, and one of many cross-cutting edicts was to eliminate private rooms. He must share a room and raises his devilish eyebrows whenever he glances at roommate Freeman.

Preditably, they bond. Predictably, they flee the hospital with a list of things they wish to do before they kick the etc. Predictably, the list impacts what remains of their lives. The list takes them to the far reaches of the world, and Nicholson’s private jet comes in handy.

We all know that Nicholson can deliver stinging, sarcastic dialogue with a precision that withers all but the most hardy. Freeman’s thespic duties are more difficult. He must portray saintliness without seeming sanctimonious and speak fortune-cookie dialogue with spontaneity. Above all, he must avoid the impression that this time he’s driving Mr. Jack instead of Miss Daisy. He manages this feat exquisitely.

Couch potatoes probably will enjoy seeing "Will & Grace"’s Sean Hayes as Nicholson’s long-suffering assistant and "Northern Exposure"’s Rob Morrow (who once seemed destined for larger roles) as a smug doctor. But mostly, "The Bucket List" is a two-man show. Nicholson and Freeman perform with a harmony that seems to spring from mutual respect.

In this review, I’ve referred to the actors by their professional names rather than their characters’ names. That’s because they never disappear into their characters. But we’re talking about Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Do we really want them to disappear into their characters? Predictably, we don’t.

DEE SURPRISE: Speaking of predictability, last weekend’s SAG Awards went as expected in the film categories. With one exception. The best-supporting-actress race seemed almost a lock between Cate Blanchett in "I’m Not There" and Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone." But Ruby Dee’s victory for "American Gangster" puts a new spin on things.

Dee’s "Gangster" performance as Denzel Washington’s righteous mother gave that overrated film a taste of humanity. But several major film commentators omitted her theor short lists of potential nominees. Awards for supporting actors often resemble lifetime achievement salutes, and Dee falls into that category.

Yet hers is a life definitely worth saluting. She and late husband Ossie Davis were less prominent on the big screen than on television and the stage, where their efforts earned accolades from Emmy voters, the Kennedy Center, the NAACP and various Christian groups. The 83-year-old actress lost her husband three years ago and speaks lovingly of him, frequently mentioning that he’s looking down on her and is proud of what he sees. If she wins the Oscar, expect a heartfelt, memorable acceptance speech.

But from the cold perspective of individual performance’s merits, I still think Blanchett or Ryan should go home with Oscar.

Review courtesy of</em>