Reese Witherspoon gets off to a bad start in "Just Like Heaven." Playing a workaholic young doctor with an Type A personality, she rushes through her medical dialogue as if she learned it phonetically and doesn't have a clue what any of it means.
Thankfully that doesn't last long because she's hit by a truck, at which point the story switches over to Mark Ruffalo with such abruptness that it's clear the filmmakers are trying to hide Witherspoon's fate for a reveal later in the picture.
Ruffalo plays a depressed guy (for reasons also conspicuously saved for later) who apparently has no job but can still afford to sub-lease Witherspoon's fantastic but homey (and furnished) San Francisco apartment, which has gorgeous, fog-free views and access to a large roof which boasts an even more spectacular 360-degree panorama of the city, bridge and bay. The one drawback is...Reese is haunting the joint.
Just like the audience, she doesn't know what's happened to her and thinks Ruffalo is an insane squatter. Cutesy confrontations follow involving domestic issues like the rings his beer cans are leaving on her furniture. Soon the control-freak specter is following him everywhere -- even after he tries to exorcize and ghost-bust the place to get some peace and quiet.
But when the pair learn how Witherspoon's spirit came to be disembodied, they team up to put things right, and fall in love in the process.
Director Mark Waters ("Freaky Friday," "Mean Girls") strains noticeably for "awwww" moments and clever, endearing little laughs throughout (and for a touch of creepy goosebumps early on). He does earn a few of each when he calms down a little and lets these things happen more naturally, as when Ruffalo takes a shower in his shorts because Witherspoon -- still trying to get rid of him -- refuses to leave her bathroom. Jon Heder from "Napoleon Dynamite" also ads a little flavor, stealing scenes as a semi-psychic stoner-dude bookshop clerk who becomes Ruffalo's mystical adviser.
But the movie is severely undermined by script contrivances, the worst of which is that Ruffalo and Witherspoon seem to get absentmindedly sidetracked in the last act, just to drag out their down-to-the-wire mission. After that, the plot becomes a hackneyed screwball situation comedy for the climax, before spinning into an oh-so-trite epilogue that requires completely irrational behavior on all sides to arrive at a big sentimental finale.
Even more problematic is that while Ruffalo (who is in danger of becoming Hollywood's go-to guy for romantic-comedy nerd-hunks) and Witherspoon are both talented actors, their hearts aren't in these performances. When it comes to romantic chemistry, they never quite mesh, no matter what kind of twinkle effect Waters puts on the screen when Ruffalo's hand touches Witherspoon's ethereal plane, or how much sweeping music he puts behind their longing glances.
(If you know anything about the medical profession, "Just Like Heaven" is even worse. In this movie, recently promoted hospital residents are given huge luxurious offices and make statements about how their training has taught them that machines like heart monitors tell them everything they need to know about a patient's condition.)
Adding up its charming, sweet and funny moments, "Just Like Heaven" eeks out just enough appeal to declare it passable as a snuggly date movie and a passable San Francisco movie (Caffe Trieste and Moose's make cameos). But there was a much better story to be had here if the writers, directors and actors had cared enough to try harder.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th September 2005
Box Office USA: $48.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $102.9M
Distributed by: Dreamworks
Production compaines: DreamWorks SKG, MacDonald/Parkes Productions
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Fresh: 83 Rotten: 66
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Mark Waters
Starring: Reese Witherspoon as Dr. Elizabeth Masterson, Mark Ruffalo as David Abbott, Donal Logue as Jack Houriskey, Dina Waters as Abby Brody, Ben Shenkman as Dr. Brett Rushton, Jon Heder as Darryl, Ivana Miličević as Katrina, Caroline Aaron as Grace, Rosalind Chao as Fran, Ron Canada as Dr. Walsh, Willie Garson as Maitre D', Gabrielle Made as Nurse Maria, William Caploe as Nurse Bill, Shulie Cowen as Nurse Jenny
Also starring: Ivana Milicevic
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