Audiences who experience The Upside without previously seeing its French inspiration The Intouchables are in for a treat.
Even better, viewers familiar with the original, which introduced the comedic gifts of Omar Sy (X-Men: Days of Future Past) to the world, are also in for a welcome surprise — if they can liberate themselves from the curmudgeonly mindset that typically accompanies Hollywood remakes of foreign films that are perfectly fine existing without a more accessible, subtitle-free version.
Transported from Paris to New York City and directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist), The Upside follows the charming blueprint of the original yet allows stars Bryan Cranston and especially Kevin Hart the freedom to inject it with their particular appealing qualities.
As wealthy quadriplegic Phillip Lacasse, Cranston expertly conveys the heartache of someone unable to live the life he wants, solely utilizing his face and voice to express his frustrations. He’s encouraged out of his shell by Hart, who gives his finest performance to date as ex-con and deadbeat father Dell Scott, mysteriously and fortuitously hired by Phillip as his live-in caretaker.
Dialing back his usual squealing, Drunk Muppet routine, Hart delivers genuine, accessible humor and also wears Dell’s melancholy well. Unaccustomed to a life of luxury, the amusing observations that arise from Dell’s exasperation with the world and his fish-out-of-water interactions with the one-percenters — namely navigating a smart shower that speaks German and attending his first opera — show the comedian’s range to a previously untapped degree.
Berger captures it all with a refined visual hand, trusting his co-leads and supporting players (including the ubiquitous Nicole Kidman as Phillip’s assistant) to provide ensemble-wide chemistry and bring this wonderful story to the masses.
Indeed, The Upside’s status as a remake is about the only aspect holding it back from being embraced on its own terms, though considering the winning mix of its fidelity to the source material while encouraging dramatic creativity from its name-brand cast, it merits more respect than it’s bound to receive.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: STX Entertainment)