Just Like Heaven (review)

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Truly, Madly Boring

Really. If you’ve seen one supernatural love story, then you’ve already seen Just Like Heaven, which is as instantly bland and forgettable as its title. It’s Ghost meets While You Were Sleeping plus City of Angels, with some Topper and All of Me thrown in because, why not? It’s not as if originality is a virtue in Hollywood — quite the opposite: if you want your flick to be blockbuster-successful, then for God’s sake don’t dare challenge or surprise the audience or do something insane like make a documentary about the mating habits of penguins, because that shit never flies. (For those of you not playing along at home, that was sarcasm: March of the Penguins is the big “surprise” hit this summer, but it’s only a surprise to those who think audiences actually want the same old crap the studios give us over and over again.)
There’s another classic film that Just Like Heaven invokes, but I’m not supposed to tell you which one because it would clue you in to what the totally obvious “secret” “twist” of the movie is… and yet, by the brain-dead calculus that allows movies like Just Like Heaven to exist, the “twist” must be obvious, and the audience must see it coming a mile away. And for the real dummies, the twist will be revealed in the trailers and TV ads so that there’s absolutely no chance that anyone will have their little minds dazed by anything even mildly unexpected.

What really makes you despair, though, is that you know that the stars of this mind-numbing dull movie deserve so much better than this. Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo do their best to rise above the crap they’re required to slog through, and in the process manage to retain enough their genuine likableness and innate adorability that it only makes you despair more, because now, when this movie makes a gazillion dollars, that will be misinterpreted to be a confirmation of the fact that yes indeed, audiences want the same old crap over and over again, and not the result of the fact that Witherspoon and Ruffalo are just so damn cute and who wouldn’t want to spend 90 minutes with them? Hollywood execs don’t care if you walk out of a movie saying, Hey, that was really dumb, but they were cute, weren’t? Hollywood already has your money at that point.

I feel like I’m in that trash-compactor scene in Star Wars when Leia says “It could be worse” and then there’s that ominous noise and Han says “It’s worse.” That’s how it is when you start really thinking about Just Like Heaven — it’s not merely a Wonder Bread throwaway rom-com, it’s an example of everything that’s wrong with modern Hollywood. Cuz look: you can see the grinding wheels of Hollywood’s blandification at work here. Last year Jon Heder was Napoleon Dynamite, which whether you liked that flick or not you have to admit that it was freaky-weird and definitely outside the mainstream, and now he’s here in Just Like Heaven in the one wacky role that has any kind of life or spark or originality to it: he’s the sort of psychic medium dude to whom Ruffalo (Collateral, 13 Going on 30) turns when he discovers the ghost of Witherspoon (Vanity Fair, Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde) haunting the fabulous San Fran apartment he’s just sublet. And he’s hilarious and brilliant and primeval and not squashable or restrainable. But that’s the way Mark Ruffalo was a couple movies ago, like in You Can Count on Me. And now he’s in this crap.

You can see Heder being put through the Hollywood ringer — he’s only in like two scenes, but he steals the movie anyway, which means the Hollywood They will try to put him in bigger and more boring roles until he ends up in some insipid romantic comedy that makes you go, God, remember when Heder was good?

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