Good acting keeps ‘The Upside’ afloat

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I want a buddy adventure movie starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. Cranston can bring out the best in Hart while Hart gives Cranston a perfect foil to work off. Based on the quality of the duo’s work in “The Upside,” I have no doubt that such a film would be very watchable.

As for “The Upside”? The Hart/Cranston combo gives the film enough humor and contrast to make this flick worth a watch.

“The Upside” stars Hart as Dell Scott, an ex-con on the verge of being sent back to prison. On a mission to collect signatures from potential employers and avoid violating his parole, Dell runs across Phil Lacasse (Cranston), a wealthy quadriplegic looking for a personal assistant. Lacasse hires Dell, and soon a friendship develops as Dell begins pushing Lacasse out of his comfort zone.

Aside from a side plot involving Dell trying to make amends with his family, that’s it for the story in this movie. What determines the success or failure or a movie like “The Upside” is the acting at the heart of the movie. In that category, this movie is a rousing success.

Cranston is Bryan Cranston, so high-quality acting from him isn’t a surprise. What is somewhat surprising is how good Hart is and how well the pair works together. Sharing so many scenes with Cranston (not to mention Nicole Kidman, who plays Lacasse’s executive, Yvonne) has clearly motivated Hart to up his game. He brings it and gives the best, most emotionally varied performance I’ve ever seen him give.

Hart also helps Cranston display warmth, vulnerability and soul. Cranston certainly appears to enjoy his scenes with Hart and that allows him to open up. Cranston breaks your heart one scene and cracks you up into laughter minutes later. Taken as an acting duo, Cranston and Hart are so much fun to watch. Their chemistry together keeps the film purring. Kidman helps out by adding a performance that’s the perfect mixture of frustration and grace and Julianna Margulies is pitch perfect in a small but vital role as a possible love interest for Lacasse.

Along with the acting, solid writing from Jon Hartmere (based on the story from the French film “Les Intouchables”), keeps the movie interesting enough to watch. Director Neil Burger also does a good job knowing when to intrude into the characters’ personal space and when to let us take the whole scene in.

Honestly, there’s not really anything “The Upside” does too terribly wrong. That’s kind of the problem.

This movie is perfectly fine and doesn’t commit any major cinematic crimes, but apart from the Cranston/Hart team-up, it also doesn’t really do anything special or memorable. The story beats fall exactly where you expect them to. There is a set up for a conflict that is never paid off in a satisfying way. There is also a question about the time over which the story plays out. It just feels like a bigger time jump is needed at the end to make the story make sense. None of these flaws are fatal, but they do keep a good movie from being a great movie.

“The Upside” is funny and heart-warming, a great antidote to the deep freeze of January in east Idaho. Now, if Hollywood will just give me a movie where Hart and Cranston team up to play intergalactic detectives trying to find a valuable supply of missing cosmic diamonds, I’ll be so happy.

3 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.