Over Her Dead Body

(2008) ** Pg-13
97 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Jeff Lowell. Cast: Paul Rudd, Eva Longoria Parker, Lake Bell, Jason Biggs, Lindsay Sloane.

If you read a fair number of movie reviews, you'll recognize a frequent criticism of movies involving romantic relationships: "What does she see in him?" or "What does he see in her?" As far as Over Her Dead Body goes, the latter question has never been more relevant. Writer-director Jeff Lowell asks us to believe—on no apparent evidence—that Paul Rudd's nice-guy veterinarian Henry deeply loves his fiancée, Eva Longoria Parker's "royal bitch" Kate (the movie's words, not mine). So when Parker's Kate bites it on their wedding day, Henry falls into a deep funk while the audience—after knowing Kate for three minutes—laughs in glee that the harpie got hers.

That's uneasy ground on which to base a film, but Lowell plows ahead through a tortured sort of pastiche of Heaven Can Wait and its multifarious ilk. Henry's sister Chloe (Lindsay Sloane) can't bear to see him unhappy, so she drags him to a caterer-psychic named Ashley (Lake Bell). Chloe browbeats Ashley into studying Kate's diary and then convincing the skeptical Henry that Kate has a message from the great beyond: move on with your life. Unsurprisingly, the result is a burgeoning romance between Henry and Ashley, and Kate—now a ghost with "unfinished business"—will have none of it. Let the ghost-psychic catfighting begin!

Intentionally or not, Lowell allows an undercurrent of misogyny. The women in the picture all treat each other horribly and practice deception and offense as their first resorts. The plot is predicated on the intense hatred between a girlfriend and ex fighting over one man. And in an ostensibly cute toss-off joke, Henry buys Ashley a David Foster Wallace book, which she can't penetrate (turns out the Infinite Jest spotted on her coffee table is a prop to make herself look smart). Perhaps for balance, Lowell includes Jason Biggs as Ashley's gay best friend/assistant with an absurd secret held in reserve for the third act.

Oh, but I'm taking it all too seriously, you say. If the ghost business were funny, I'd be happy to get in the "spirit." But almost no scene with Parker in it strikes comic sparks (the exceptions: when Stephen Root is around as another angel with issues, and an amusing scene involving W. Morgan Sheppard as a priest called in to exorcise Kate). When Parker attempts sincerity, it's as natural as her hair color. The script's no help to her, as when the story awkwardly jumps from freshly dead Kate being terribly disoriented to her putting on expert ghost parlor tricks for Ashley in the very next scene.

No, the picture belongs to Bell and Rudd. Rudd's jazzy comic delivery (peppered with the improvisatory comic equivalent of musical "fills") makes it easy to see why Ashley would fall for the laconic vet, and Bell connects flirtily with her scene partner. Though their scenes are good enough temporarily to siumulate a good movie, the predictable Over Her Dead Body is below them: its most relatable character is Kate's heavenly intake counselor, who finally snipes at Kate, "Will you shut up? You're dead!" After these 97 minutes, resting in peace sounds pretty good.

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