Friday, February 01, 2008

"Over Her Dead Body" -- * *

The instantly forgettable extended-sitcom "Over Her Dead Body" is an easy enough sit, I'll give it that. Despite cringe-inducing advertising (I've been dreading the release since I first saw the trailer attached to "Southland Tales"), if you're being dragged to a movie, you could definitely do worse. As a middle-of-the-road, genial comedy, it isn't particularly endearing nor off-putting. There's no inspired jokes or any memorable sequences; the only thing you're left with is the vague notion that Paul Rudd can easily enrich anything he's in.

After opening at the wedding of Kate (Eva Longoria Parker) and Henry (Rudd), during which Kate is promptly crushed to death by an ice angel, the movie jumps into its central title-indicated concept. After seeing a psychic, Ashley (Lake Bell), at his sister's behest, Henry and Ashley start tof all for each other. This really, really pisses off ghost-Kate, and she was pretty high-strung and bitchy while she was still alive. After appearing to Ashley demanding she stops seeing Henry, and Ashley refuses to abide, Kate decides to torment Ashley until she gives in to her demand. Somewhere in the mix, with little to do with the central storyline, is Ashley's gay friend Dan (Jason Biggs), who she runs a catering company with and becomes more important later on.

A big problem here, and a major reason why "Dead Body" feels much longer than its 88 minutes, is that it's constantly changing what movie it wants to be (and the disparity of quality of those movies). After the opening sequence, we get about 20 minutes of romantic comedy between Henry and Ashley; then we shift into 40 minutes or so of Kate fucking with Ashley (during which Rudd is completely pushed into the background), closing with 20-25 minutes of Henry and Ashley separating and missing each other (during which Longoria is pushed into the background).

While the most outwardly familiar, the early romantic comedy section is easily the best part of the film. For about 20 minutes, the movie's kind of charming and amusing. Rudd gets the most opportunity to be in the forefront during it, and him and Bell have a chemistry that really works. It's when the movie slips into its "zany" premise that the comedy gets infinitely more muted. Kate's taunting of Ashley isn't particularly funny-- again, very sitcommy stuff-- and the script never mines the potentially darkly fun, mean-spirited potential that's there (her biggest act of bitchiness is tricking Ashley into thinking a fire alarm is going off while she's in the shower at her gym, resulting in fellow gym members seeing her half-naked).

Most of the dialogue-driven stuff-- such as a lame back-and-forth about the semantics of an angel-- falls so flat that the movie mostly resorts to wedging tired, if audience pleasing, slapstick in wherever it can fit. Rather than anything witty or fresh, we get an extended fart joke and gay Jason Biggs shrieking at setting his arm on fire while attempting to cook. Even the one physical gag that starts off kind of guiltily amusing (involving repeated attempts to lift a fat dog) is hammered into the ground by going on way too long.

By all logic serving as our main character, Ashley is played fairly nicely by Bell. Though she's occasionally out of her league with her comic delivery, she seems to have noticeably better comedic chops than most wanna-be-funny pretty actresses. Longoria, on the other hand, is adequately irritating as the character requires, but never particularly funny. She radiates bitchiness as the angel clad in a white dress and lots of lipstick and makeup, but she plays Kate rather flatly (not that she had much to work with anyway).

As you can probably tell, I love Rudd unabashedly, but even those who have no feeling on him would have to admit he's the saving grace of this movie. Almost every line Henry delivers is a wisecrack (when discussing Kate's death by being crushed by an angel, he says "As sad as I am, I do appreciate the irony"), and Rudd pulls it off, making me laugh even at lines I would have stared blankly at in a script. He has such terrific comedic timing, it's shocking no one's given him a real leading comic role since his Apatow-credited resurgence. Late in the movie, he even rocks the cliched sulking, lonely-man-going-supermarket-shopping bit, and makes it work.

I have some reservations about specific elements relating to Biggs' gay character late in the film, but at the risk of spoiling anything (if a movie like this can even be spoiled), I'll keep my mouth shut. He's fine in it, for what it's worth, and I'm sure he's happy his movies aren't going direct-to-DVD anymore. Meanwhile, I'm always a bit heartened when Stephen Root pops up in a movie (as he did in recent months in "Mad Money" and "No Country for Old Men"), but he's woefully underused here, seemingly left mostly on the cutting room floor. In three quick scenes, his drunk-turned-angel character seems to have an initially important purpose, but he disappears for most of the movie. From spotlighting as crazy mogul Jimmy James on "Newsradio" to becoming the best character actor working today, Root always lifts up a project, however briefly.

Though not as overtly stupid as advertised, "Over Her Dead Body" really isn't worth your time. If you're taken along with a group or a date, it's totally painless and you might even get a couple weak chuckles out of it-- mostly thanks to Rudd-- but that's it. It probably qualifies as one of the less awful January-February releases, but with so many great '07 movies just now making their way around the country (e.g.: "There Will Be Blood," "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," "Persepolis," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and "The Orphanage," just to name a few), there's really no excuse to be one of the people giving your money to "Over Her Dead Body."


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