Over Her Dead Body

Empty

Empty

They require the precision and finesse of souffles, but more and more romantic comedies are turned out like so many build-your-own omelets -- surprise-free and forgettable. Fresh off the Sunday-brunch assembly line, New Line's "Over Her Dead Body" is a love triangle about a guy and two girls, one of whom is his dead, jealous fiancee. After a boxoffice fling, this manufactured whimsy should find true bliss in DVD afterlife.

Writer-director Jeff Lowell's recipe is sound, if uninspired, but the all-important element of chemistry remains elusive. Working with the basic rom-com template -- man and woman meet cute under false circumstances, overcome wariness, fall for each other, then split up after the truth surfaces, just long enough to know that they can't live apart -- Lowell has created a premise with a pleasing streamlined simplicity. But he and his cast do little to lift the material beyond the realm of silliness.

A year after an ice sculpture crushed his fiancee to death hours before their wedding, Henry (Paul Rudd) reluctantly lets his ditzy, interfering sister, Chloe (Lindsay Sloane), drag him to a psychic. Chloe's hope is that a channeled word of encouragement from his dearly departed will spur him to move on -- "moving on" being the new "closure." Henry isn't quite a sad sack, but he's resigned to a loveless life, and his glumness appears to have affected his work -- he's a veterinarian who doesn't particularly like animals. Or that could just be a reflection of how half-baked the film's characters are.

The reading by pretty psychic/caterer Ashley (Lake Bell) is no breakthrough. But Henry's sister secretly appeals to her to try it again, this time armed with the diary of Kate, Henry's deceased love, the better to convince him that Ashley has contacted her and that Kate really wants him to, yes, move on. The ruse gets the better of Henry's wry skepticism. But as sparks ignite between him and Ashley, Kate (Eva Longoria Parker) arrives on the scene, and she's a bossy little ghost.

Having so aggravated her angel guide (Kali Rocha), Kate still is in Earthbound limbo and decides that her mission is to meddle with the budding romance. She sets about playing mean tricks on Ashley, intended to be hilarious but barely raising a smile. Thanks to her intermittent psychic gifts, Ashley can see the stylish ghost, and the story devolves into a catfight over a guy.

Ashley gets to vent with her gay catering assistant, Dan (Jason Biggs), a twist on the stock, thankless role of the best friend. A further third-act twist on this character is borderline ridiculous and mildly creepy.

Despite the film's oversimplified pop-psych premise, the idea of the difficulty of letting go is a resonant one. But its resonance is limited here by the thinly conceived characters and the fact that we never get a glimpse of what passive Henry and shrill Kate liked, let alone loved, about each other. Vaguely quirky and down-to-earth, Ashley exists mainly as a contrast to Kate's control freak. Slapstick and when-in-doubt fart jokes don't buoy the proceedings.

Rudd is an underappreciated comic actor, and his line readings are the best thing in the film, but the bland role barely taps his talent. Amid the rest of the cast's one-note posing, his scenes with a parrot have a spontaneity and wit otherwise in short supply.

Lowell and DP John Bailey use off-the-beaten-path Los Angeles-area locations to evoke a fairy-tale place, but the story never takes off as a flight of fancy.

OVER HER DEAD BODY
New Line
New Line and Gold Circle Films present
a Safran Co. production
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Jeff Lowell
Producers: Paul Brooks, Peter Safran
Executive producers: Scott Niemeyer, Norm Waitt
Director of photography: John Bailey
Production designer: Cory Lorenzen
Music: David Kitay
Co-producers: Jeff Levine, Chrisann Verges
Costume designer: Tracy Tynan
Editor: Matthew Friedman
Cast:
Kate: Eva Longoria Parker
Henry: Paul Rudd
Ashley: Lake Bell
Dan: Jason Biggs
Chloe: Lindsay Sloane
Sculptor: Stephen Root
Angel: Kali Rocha
Father Marks: W. Morgan Sheppard
Bill: Sam Pancake
Running time -- 94 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

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