[box cover]

Just Like Heaven

At last — Ghost without the thrills or laughs! That sort of describes the sweet but utterly toothless (and surprisingly toothless, given the talent) Just Like Heaven (2005). Actually, that's a little harsh. This romantic comedy about a grieving schlump (Mark Ruffalo) haunted by the spirit of the uptight med student (Reese Witherspoon) who used to live in his apartment is blandly agreeable. It has the glow of its handsome leads and its San Francisco milieu to keep it warm. And it hits all the marks an undemanding viewer expects from this particular brand of flick:

  • There are vaguely wacky supporting characters;
  • There's a big goofy chase at the end;
  • There are some wonderful '80s alt-pop songs — by Iggy Pop, The Pretenders, and The Cure — that have been carefully re-recorded in soft new arrangements guaranteed to provide a soundbed so comforting it might as well be amniotic fluid;
  • And, of course, the film carries the ever-popular romantic-comedy message that all that hard work you women are doing (even if you're, you know, ER doctors) doesn't mean a bloody thing without someone to love. Especially if that someone happens to be as good-looking and vaguely broody as Mark Ruffalo.

Okay. Wait. That's also a little harsh. There's a lot to like about romantic comedies — even heterosexual males are known to enjoy My Best Friend's Wedding and Four Weddings and a Funeral and probably several other films with the word "Wedding" in the title. But let's be blunt: Just Like Heaven is a simply colossal waste of talent. Director Mark Waters brought us Mean Girls and The House of Yes. Reese Witherspoon starred in Election and as June Carter in Walk the Line. Mark Ruffalo is a chameleon who tends to turn up and kill in stuff like You Can Count on Me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Collateral. So do we really need to see these talented folks slumming it in one of those rom-coms where most of the scenes have the energy, look, and form of a comedy, but none of the actual written dialogue that transforms bickering into banter? Do we need to see them struggling to emote against one of those soundtracks where the music does all the emoting for them? Do we need to hear Mark Ruffalo — Mark Ruffalo — unironically deliver a line like "I kept saying it was you who was dead, but it was me who was dead!" There are a few funny bits. Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) gets a few chuckles as a psychic bookstore employee. There's a scene where ghost-Witherspoon uses her medical training to try and diagnose whether Ruffalo is, in fact, insane, which is kind of clever. Donal Logue makes a fine, smarmy sidekick. And there's a pleasantly surprising explanation as to why Witherspoon hasn't left our plane of existence yet. But the lead actors are simply too intelligent to commit fully to something this baldly formulaic. DreamWorks' Just Like Heaven looks good on DVD in a crisp anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French) and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Extras include a commentary track with director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green, and director of photography Daryn Okada. Also on board are the featurettes "The Making of Just Like Heaven" (14 min.) and "Meet the Cast" (13 min.), a gag reel (5 min.), three deleted scenes and an alternate ending (with commentary and a "play all" option), and previews for other DreamWorks titles. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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