Just Like Heaven

(2005) * 1/2 Pg-13
94 min. DreamWorks. Director: Mark Waters. Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Dina Waters, Ben Shenkman.

For every good romantic comedy Hollywood puts out, there must be thirty like Just Like Heaven. Based on the slim novel If Only It Were True (by French architect Marc Levy), Just Like Heaven believes in love, destiny, and all manner of psychic phenomena. Reese Witherspoon is uncharacteristically bad as the disembodied spirit of an ER doctor, and Mark Ruffalo sweats his way through badly written scene after badly written scene as a widower in need of supernatural romantic redemption from a woman only he can see. Anticipating audience reaction, Ruffalo gripes, "You're like an AM radio someone shoved in my head and I can't turn off!"

Mark Waters' film is painfully predictable romanticized crap, but dealing as it does with mortal tragedy—death, brain-death, and loss—it's also unscrupulous and exploitative. Just Like Heaven coasts on jokes that were old when they were on Topper (like standing in the middle of a table—get it? She's a spirit!). Verve and creativity can redeem this sort of thing, as in the guiltily entertaining Ghost, but even in its best moments, Just Like Heaven is clumsy or overbearing. (Waters proved he can handle better material with his last film, Mean Girls).

At its worst, the movie chases charm through the streets of San Francisco, but only catches a soundtrack crammed with bad cover songs and Jon "Napoleon Dynamite" Heder as a psychic bookstore proprietor. Heder is obviously bait for male teens who would otherwise avoid this sort of movie, but I'm more trusting of their instincts for self-preservation (and sense of smell). Don't go, not even for the postcard scenery of San Francisco, and certainly not for the romantic delusions.

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