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JUST LIKE HEAVEN
U.S. Release Date: September 16, 2005
Distributor: DreamWorks
Director: Mark S. Waters
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Composer: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Heder
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (some sexual content)

Romantic Fantasy Slips into a Coma
by Scott Holleran

Not even cheery Reese Witherspoon can save the schizophrenic Just Like Heaven, which features Mark Ruffalo as a down and out landscape designer opposite Witherspoon. What starts as a sweet, romantic fantasy never recovers from an appalling post-Terri Schiavo tug on the heavenly heartstrings.

Just as Witherspoon's lonesome doctor in a bustling, big city hospital becomes interesting, she has a Defending Your Life car crash that casts her into a state that is neither dead nor alive. Rather than play out the hospital plot that director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) spends a lot time introducing, the picture slips into a dull interplay between Witherspoon's half-ghost and sad sack Ruffalo, who takes residence in her apartment following the automobile accident.

Once her apparition appears, and it mysteriously does so only to him, their chemistry barely registers, though that's not entirely the fault of the actors, who are thrust into an uneven plot. Witherspoon's doctor is buoyant and efficacious, bopping around the hospital corridors, charming the geriatric patients and occasionally thinking about meeting a man. Once she's half-dead, the Witherspoon character is snappish and unpleasant, nagging and barking at Ruffalo's schlub. By the third act, she scarcely resembles the friendly doctor whose life wasn't as bad as this movie would have us believe.

Ruffalo's pop-drinking character sulks and mopes. When he perks up, it's a put-on—as if he'd rather crawl back into bed. A bait and switch about the nature of the guy's sorrow disrupts the occasionally clever banter, and they don't fall in love so much as hang together like the last two people at the prom. Those in the mood for love may be inclined to root for them, and Witherspoon is as gleaming as ever, but whatever is witty or tender is usually killed by the following scene.

The writers throw in everything but the angel wings—clairvoyant children, a Bay Area bookstore airhead (a dumb, white version of Whoopi Goldberg's Ghost psychic) and a sister as inconsistent as the love couple. The climax brings the unconsummated lovers back to the hospital, and the movie's lack of focus lets loose a load of hooey that feels custom-made for the Bible Belt. Making a mockery of the right to die, Just Like Heaven concludes that wishing will make it so, blended with the notion that everything happens for a reason.

Yet, nothing here happens for a reason, including (and in particular) their love connection. Witherspoon is nice—no, she is not—Ruffalo is lovesick—no, it's worse than that—sister talks behind Witherspoon's back—no, she's her most loyal advocate. Other characters include an unethical best friend, a horny neighbor and an obsequious doctor. None of them survives this cracker barrel crapshoot.


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