Combustible Celluloid
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With: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Dina Waters, Jon Heder, Ivana Milicevic
Written by: Peter Tolan, Leslie Dixon
Directed by: Mark S. Waters
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running Time: 101
Date: 09/16/2005

Just Like Heaven (2005)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Heaven' Blows

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Once full of promise, Reese Witherspoon showed a fierce fearlessness and a ceaseless drive in early films like Freeway, Twilight and Election. Then, with Legally Blonde, its inane sequel and the equally idiotic Sweet Home Alabama, she threw it all away for big paychecks and top billing on "Entertainment Tonight."

Recalling this ferocious talent, it's painful to watch once again as she ignores her calling for yet another half-witted romantic comedy.

Just Like Heaven, harkens back to Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) without being quite so clever or romantic. Witherspoon plays Elizabeth, a doctor-in-residence too busy for dating. Despite her achievements and the many lives she has saved, her co-workers and her sister (Dina Waters) are concerned only with her romantic life. Unfortunately, one rainy night, an out-of-control truck strikes her car. She returns as a spirit, haunting the shabbily handsome guy, David (Mark Ruffalo), currently living in her former apartment.

David and Elizabeth are a match made in heaven because, lo and behold, David is also single and his friends -- including Jack (Donal Logue) -- are also perpetual matchmakers. Hence we wait until the hapless couple figures out a way to get past Elizabeth's less-than-solid spirit form and find true love.

Just Like Heaven plays better than the usual rom-com formula, in which one member of the couple must continue building on a lie to prolong the mating ritual, but the aged jokes and genre staples are still here. Worst of all is the screenplay's final solution, a soulless contrivance that both insults its viewers and drags the film out too long.

Director Mark S. Waters, who somehow jolted a burst of life into Freaky Friday and Mean Girls (both 2003), fails do the same here. Instead, he luxuriates in physical elements like Witherspoon's gorgeous, slinky black-and-red suit, as well as the beautiful San Francisco locations. Likewise, the movie's spacious, elegant, authentic-looking apartment oozes magical transcendence as it displays its spectacular views.

Not least of all, Jon Heder arrives in his first big screen role following the cult hit Napoleon Dynamite. He livens a few scenes with his deadhead portrayal of an occult bookseller, recycling an identical shtick. Heder is a pony that revels in his one trick, but when Witherspoon repeatedly hits the same single note, we long for the symphonies she's capable of.

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