Hollywood should pass a law that if you’re going to remake a movie, you’d better have a damned good reason to do so. Some films just don’t require another go around, especially when the source material isn’t that old. A case in point for the passage of such a law is The Upside, a remake of the French film The Intouchables, which is based on a true story itself. On its own, the film is a jumbled mess that starts clumsily and finishes with some endearing moments. But compared to the original, it doesn’t justify its existence terribly well.
The Upside’s version of events casts Bryan Cranston as Philip, a quadriplegic business guru in need of a live auxiliary to help him live a somewhat normal life. Being in the right place at the right time, Kevin Hart’s Dell gets hired for the job, as he’s an out-of-the-box thinker that Philip takes to for some reason. As with any dramedy of this ilk, hilarity ensues, and the two men are challenged to learn from each other in their vital partnership.
Somewhere, in the almost two year limbo that saw The Upside sitting on a shelf, a better version of this movie could have been created. But, as director Neil Burger’s finished product stands, it’s one of those remakes that caters to an audience that just doesn’t want to read subtitles. Save for a few story notes here and there, The Upside almost feels like a lazily reskinned version of The Intouchables, which rearranges some of the basic furniture of the piece in hopes that it’ll really tie the room together.
This leads to the first half of the film feeling like an excuse to deploy gag after gag, all in the name of frontloading The Upside with so much Kevin Hart schtick that it’ll keep the audience coming to see him interested past the threshold of walking out for a refund. There’s also clichéd attempts to manufacture drama in his own life, that if handled better, could have been written off as simply laying the groundwork.
However, The Upside does have some moments of true connection between its leads as it crosses over into the more serious half of the film. Once Bryan Cranston’s Philip opens up more about his circumstance, not only does he get to really show his talents on full display, it also gives Hart a chance to get in on the action, too.
Perhaps the best thing The Upside can do for its audience is show them that, if they’d trusted Kevin Hart to be a capable dramatic lead throughout the film, he could have handled it. If the entire film had trusted its audience, and its leads, like the results of The Upside’s second half did, this could have been something pretty special, or at least better than what was delivered.
By no means is this review saying that The Intouchables is a hallowed film that shouldn’t be touched, for fear of desecrating it. Rather, the message here should be that if you’re going to remake a film into a project such as The Upside, you need to make it your own. Sadly, even with the charm that its stars display in the Cranston-centric back half of the film, the movie is incapable of doing so.
The Upside isn’t bad enough to be totally panned, nor is it good enough to be recommended. Rather, it’s just a middling translation of a foreign film that switches from zany fish out of water comedy to serious, life-affirming drama at the moment of its choosing. It wastes not only the opportunity to improve upon the original, it also wastes the full potential of its cast, and the time of the audience. It’s sad to say it, but there’s very little upside to seeing The Upside.