Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston Are an Unlikely Duo in ‘Intouchables’ Remake ‘The Upside’

The highs and lows in the lives of two very different New York men are explored in dramedy “The Upside,” an American remake of the French film “Intouchables,” which itself was based off of a true story. Kevin Hart stars as Dell Scott, an ex-con who is introduced shortly after completing a jail sentence for armed robbery. Despite having no money and no home, Dell isn’t exactly hungry for employment; he goes on a series of interviews at dead-end jobs merely to gather the signatures he is required to show his parole officer. However, Dell has a young son, Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), and an ex, Latrice (Aja Naomi King), who have reached their limit with the man they perceive as a deadbeat, so when quadriplegic millionaire Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) unexpectedly hires him a as his caregiver, he reluctantly accepts. Wiping some rich dude’s behind is exactly what Dell considers living his best life, but living in a Park Avenue apartment and driving around in a Ferrari is a start.

Phillip’s hiring of ex-con Dell isn’t exactly an altruistic act on Phillip’s part, as he made his bucks fixing up hopeless businesses, and Dell becomes some of a project for him. His hiring of the least qualified candidate (something that is repeated ad nauseum) doesn’t sit well with his executive assistant, Yvonne (an elegant Nicole Kidman). However, surprise, surprise, it is Dell who turns out has a lot to offer, as he some ideas about how to loosen up his boss, some that work better than others. Much of the humor comes from amusing, albeit cliché-ridden, scenes of Dell introducing Phillip to the joys of marijuana smoking and sleeping with prostitutes.

There’s a major tonal shift when it comes to dealing with Phillip’s romantic life. Having lost his beloved wife to cancer years prior, his love life has been more fantasy than anything. Pushed by Dell, he goes on a date with a woman, Lily (Julianna Margulies), whom he has been romancing up until this point only through handwritten letters. Much care is taken by the actors and director Neil Burger to ensure that this scene of a disabled person on a date is nuanced and handled as delicately as possibly.

Other highlights of “The Upside” include a cameo from Tate Donovan as Phillip’s smug neighbor who gets roped into buying a bizarre painting, and Dell confronting some of his personal hang-ups when it comes time to change Phillip’s catheter, a scene that is especially amusing considering the recent controversy surrounding Hart and his past homophobic Tweets. There’s also the soundtrack, which includes not only some surprisingly inspiring opera, but also the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. Although “The Upside” was filmed more two years ago (it sat on the shelf for sometime after the collapse of its original distributor, The Weinstein Company), these scenes featuring Franklin’s music seem to take on a deeper meaning in the wake of the singer’s fairly recent death.

The Upside” opens Jan. 11 nationwide.