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Just Like Heaven (3/10)

by Tony Medley

Babe Ruth, baseball’s greatest player, struck out sometimes. Michael Jordan missed some jump shots. Baryshnikov occasionally tripped. Sinatra hit some flat notes. Everyone stumbles and falls. With “Just Like Heaven,” Director Mark Waters has joined the club. After two terrific comedies, “Freaky Friday” (2003) and “Mean Girls” (2004), he has produced a slow, boring, uninvolving, unfunny “romantic comedy.” Alas, it’s not very romantic and not funny at all.

It telegraphs its ineptness at the outset with saccharine “slice of life” dialogue. After setting this low tone, it’s all downhill.

Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) is a type A, driven doctor who gets in a horrible automobile accident en route to a dinner party for blind date arranged by her sister, Abby (Dina Waters, director Mark’s wife), and Abby’s husband. David (Mark Ruffalo) is a landscape architect who rents Elizabeth’s apartment after her accident, as she lay in a coma in a hospital.  Along with the apartment, he inherits Elizabeth’s spirit, with whom he falls in love.

The standard for ghost-based comedies was set in 1947 with “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and “The Bishop’s Wife,” which followed up on 1945’s “Blithe Spirit.” They were funny and successful, but they are the genre’s gold standard. In fact the TV series of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” in 1968 didn’t come close to the original (of course the original starred Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison; Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare were clearly out of their league on TV.).

I wonder what Mark Ruffalo is doing in this movie. He’s one of the better up and coming actors of his generation. I’m sure he was influenced by Waters’ track record. Even so, he should have known, after reading the script, that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Witherspoon made one entertaining movie, “Legally Blonde” (2001), but all her subsequent efforts have been way below that par. She doesn’t add much here, either. But to be fair to her, she is working with extraordinarily weak material. Joining Ruffalo and Witherspoon is Jon Heder, fresh off his acclaimed appearance in “Napoleon Dynamite,” which I didn’t see. Apparently Waters is trying to appeal to the youth market by using Heder, who plays a hip-talking Darryl, a person who can feel Elizabeth’s presence and is the only person in the movie who believes David’s story about Elizabeth’s existence as a ghost in his life. Darryl didn’t do it for me, but maybe he will for people younger.

With little chemistry between Witherspoon and Ruffalo, even though it’s only 95 minutes long it failed the watch test.

 September 8, 2005