Over Her Dead Body (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

To fashion an endearing romantic comedy, there are only a few simple rules to be followed: find two likeable leads whose chemistry sizzles, provide them with a simple framework that allows them to gradually fall for each other in such a way that the audience roots for the love affair, and inject elements of wit and intelligence into the screenplay. Over Her Dead Body, the feature debut of director Jeff Lowell (who has the dubious distinction of being the credited writer for John Tucker Must Die), misses every one of those precepts. The result, while not horrifically bad, is as mediocre a motion picture as you're likely to find in a multiplex this season. It's tough to hate the movie because it doesn't generate enough emotion for that kind of passion. It's inept but, in the wake of The Hottie & the Nottie, this year's gold standard for cinematic awfulness, one tends to regard other less-than-successful motion pictures like this one with more kindness.

For Kate (Eva Longoria Parker) and Henry (Paul Rudd), it's their wedding day. She, like her Shakespearean namesake, is a shrew whose all-over bronze gives her the appearance of someone who spent too much time under a sun lamp. He is a bit of a sadsack but most guys tend to be out of it when they're about to say "I do." The moment never arrives, however, because Kate is accidentally crushed by an ice sculpture of an angel without wings. She reappears on Earth as a ghost in time to see her beloved almost-husband beginning to do something of which she does not approve, so she becomes convinced she's here to save him from a horrible fate.

That "fate" comes in the person of psychic Ashley (Lake Bell), who has been hired by Henry's sister, Chloe (Lindsay Sloane), to convince Henry that he needs to get out more and start dating again. It is, after all, a year since the ill-fated wedding. Chloe gives Ashley Kate's secret diary so Ashley will be able to relay personal details during her séances. Complications ensue when Ashley becomes attracted to Henry and he to her. That's when Kate decides to make an appearance to Ashley to scare her away. There's a twist to the story but it's so obvious I hesitate to use the word "twist." I don't think we're supposed to be surprised by it but with least common denominator scripts like this, who knows?

I hate movies where all the characters are forced by the constraints of the plot to repeatedly do stupid things. It's tough to relate to individuals who do the dumb things the people populating this movie do. We have come to expect this kind of behavior from screaming horror movie heroines but it's disconcerting when lobotomized actions bleed into a romantic comedy. The low level of energy exhibited by Paul Rudd combined with the lack of a spark between him and his leading lady, TV staple Lake Bell, make this a dreary romantic affair. Bell actually plays better opposite Jason Biggs (as Bell's gay assistant) than opposite Rudd which make certain aspects of the resolution awkward. Over Her Dead Body isn't substantially better as a comedy than a romance. Some of the gags are amusing, but most are forced. There's also the obligatory flatulence joke that goes on forever and isn't even chuckle-worthy. For the most part, this movie feels like pieces of different sit-coms inelegantly smashed together. That's the level at which the movie is written, directed, and acted. Sitting in the theater, I found it hard to believe I was watching a motion picture.

Eva Longoria Parker should have fired whoever did her makeup during the film's early scenes. To say that her "look" is not flattering is to understate the matter. She appears old, waxy, and overtanned. There's no hint of the brunette bombshell who became an international sex symbol as a result of Desperate Housewives. In fact, she hardly looks like the same person. (Once she becomes a ghost, she's allowed to appear a little more attractive.) Her acting isn't appreciably better than her appearance. Then again, she's portraying someone without substance (although she inexplicably casts a shadow), so Longoria's approach arguably fits. Paul Rudd looks like he'd rather be elsewhere and Lake Hill is given to exaggerated gestures that make her character seem more like a caricature.

The movie at least ends on the right note, although it's hardly surprising how it gets there. A potentially poignant secondary plot gets a happy ending it doesn't earn, but that's not unusual for a fairy tale that wants to avoid discomfort. Over Her Dead Body is strictly TV fare - the kind of thing you could watch late at night after a long bout of channel surfing and not feel too guilty about it (if you stay awake). As a multiplex destination, however, it's a waste of time and money. Anyone desperate for a date movie should wait a couple of weeks for the more inventive and satisfying Definitely, Maybe. To apply that terminology, Over Her Dead Body is Definitely Not.

Over Her Dead Body (United States, 2008)

Director: Jeff Lowell
Cast: Eva Longoria Parker, Paul Rudd, Lake Bell, Jason Biggs, Lindsay Sloane
Screenplay: Jeff Lowell
Cinematography: John Bailey
Music: David Kitay
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2008-02-01
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1