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“The Upside” almost turns upside down

Upside
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Bryan Cranston, left, and Kevin Hart, perform in "The Upside."

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Friday, January 11, 2019

As I write this review, it’s still up in the air whether Kevin Hart will host this year’s Academy Awards. He was picked because he’s funny, he’s a performer of color, and his star was on the ascendance.

But someone dug up old comments by Hart that were homophobic. The remarks of a comic, certainly. Funny by today’s standards, not.

He stepped down as Oscars host.

Then, last week, TV talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, poster girl for gay understanding, called up the Academy and asked them to take Hart back.

The timing for all this publicity is good, in that Kevin Hart has a new movie coming out this week. Not quite a comedy, this is a dramedy that shows off his thespian skills. An inspiring tearjerker called “The Upside,” it co-stars Bryan Cranston (who rose to fame playing a drug dealer in TV’s “Breaking Bad”).

Here, Cranston portrays a billionaire quadriplegic who hires the recently paroled convict as his caretaker. They form an odd union.

The movie is a remake of a French film called “The Intouchables,” based on the life of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo. He’s a Corsican businessman who became paralyzed in 1993 following a paragliding accident. The original film was called the cultural event of 2011 in France, garnering 52% of votes in a poll by Fédération Nationale d’Achats des Cadres. Also, it received 8 nominations for César Awards, winning best actor for Omar Sy (the black actor).

Kevin Hart should only hope for as much success with the American version.

Originally, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, and Idris Elba were up for the role. Then, Chris Tucker. Colin Firth was in talks for the quad lead. And Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain were under consideration for the female lead, before it went to Nicole Kidman.

The director for the remake shifted from Paul Feig to Tom Shadyac to Simon Curtis and finally to Neil Berger (“Divergent”).

Typical Hollywood card shuffling.

“The Upside” is currently playing at the Regal Grande, 750 S.W. Greenville Blvd., and the AMC Fire Tower, 1685 E. Fire Tower Road.

This is the third remake of “The Intouchables,” following an Indian version (“Oopin”) and an Argentinian version (“Inseparables”).

“The Upside” was a long time in the making. The Weinstein Company acquired the rights in 2011. Hart was hired in 2014. Cranston was signed in 2016. Nicole Kidman joined the cast in 2017. Follow the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal in 2018, the distribution was moved to STX Entertainment and Lantern Entertainment. The release date was shifted from March 2018 to January 2019.

Now comes the Kevin Hart controversy.

Was it worth all this hassle? Matter of fact, yes. “The Upside” is an entertaining film, standing on its own against all those other disability tales like “My Left Foot,” “Me Before You,” and “The Theory of Everything.” Unlike them, “The Upside” is more of a buddy picture -- with good chemistry between Cranston and Hart.

But Hart’s antics almost turned the film’s release into “The Upside Down.” Whether you see the film or not, you’ll certainly tune in to the Academy Awards telecast to see who’s hosting.

Shirrel Rhoades is a former executive with Marvel Entertainment, a writer, publisher, professor and filmmaker. He is from North Carolina and lives in Florida.

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