JUST LIKE HEAVEN

PG-13
Reviews

Just Like Heaven, in which a workaholic doctor too busy for relationships finally meets the man of her dreams (here, literally), is another cinematic press release targeting audiences with a positive spin on the ugly subjects of death, loss and severe illness. At the same time, of course, this lightweight entry hypes true love, benign fate and just desserts while promoting the ubiquity of salvation for those who open their hearts and minds to life's wondrous possibilities.

All in all, the latest from director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) is nonstop hokum and a pileup of movie clichés that suggest we've already seen this movie. Yet jokes occasionally hit their mark, the San Francisco skylines are smashing, the performances are sweet, and few among those who dare enter the theatre will leave dry-eyed. Ghosts and romance aside, calculation is the overriding force here and it goes beyond the embarrassingly excessive but affecting happy ending.

Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) is a hard-working medical resident at a San Francisco Hospital, where this high achiever has just learned that she has been accepted to join the hospital staff. But this grind yields zip on the romance front. So single-minded, she's a single who doesn't even date.

On the joyful night Elizabeth learns of her promotion, older sister Abby (Dina Waters, the director's wife) is preparing a nice dinner for her and has facilitated a blind date for her doctor sibling. On the drive over, Elizabeth smacks head-on into a truck.

Meanwhile, David (Mark Ruffalo), a landscape architect in deep despair over the loss of his wife, searches for an apartment with a pushy broker (Carolyn Aaron), but finds what he wants when a sublet notice breaks loose on the street and lands on his face. David moves into this perfect apartment, which provides eye-popping vistas of downtown San Francisco and has a large roof just screaming for a garden. Out of nowhere, the ghost of Elizabeth appears in the apartment, as this was her space prior to the accident. She becomes a real nudge, but David tolerates her presence. Realizing she's a ghost, the two team to find out more about what has happened to her and what is happening to poor David. Is he hallucinating?

As happens in films like these, Elizabeth is invisible to all but David, so she accompanies him on this journey of recovery and discovery. David's lone pal Jack (Donal Logue), a shrink who could use one of his own, insists Jack forget his problems and drown his sorrow in booze. More helpful is oddball bookseller Darryl (Napoleon Dynamite's overnight sensation Jon Heder), whom David meets while researching ghosts and the afterlife. Like the others, Darryl cannot see Elizabeth but has special sensibilities and is plugged into the spiritual world to the extent that he can give David some guidance.

Ever on the trail to learn of Elizabeth's fate, the pair discover that Elizabeth was involved in a terrible collision but has been on life support at her hospital for three months. David and Elizabeth's ghost visit and realize that her condition is indeed grave.

Villains are an excellent antidote to mushy films like this, and slimy Dr. Brett Rushton (Ben Shenkman), who took the appointment awarded to Elizabeth, does the trick as he fights to get Abby to sign papers so that Elizabeth's life-support plugs can be pulled. In a rush against time, David enlists Jack to help him steal Elizabeth the patient from the hospital. In a bouncy sequence streaked with some rich comedic lodes, all the characters face off in the hospital, facilitating the film's just and happy ending.

This easy-to-take, middle-of-the-road entry should catch some traffic from the easy-to-please, but won't generate any exciting water-cooler chatter at the nurses' station.

-Doris Toumarkine