Review: Over Her Dead Body

Among the many things deceased besides the main character in this painful romantic comedy are the screenplay, the direction, most of the performances, and any trace of heart. It's a softball of a motion picture, somehow mistakenly ending up in theaters when it would find a more receptive home in the warm bosom of the Lifetime cable channel.

When bridezilla Kate (Eva Longoria) is killed by an ice sculpture on her wedding day, she awakens in heaven as an angel with a serious attitude problem. When her fiancé Henry (Paul Rudd) seeks out the guidance of a psychic, Ashley (Lake Bell), he finds an attraction to the curious medium, finding some joy again after a year of depression. For Ashley, the situation is more complicated: while falling in love with Henry, she's soon haunted by the ghost of Kate, who doesn't want anyone going near her man.

Writer/director Jeff Lowell has an extensive history in the sitcom world, so it makes sense that his filmmaking debut, "Over Her Dead Body," (IMDb listing) would be such a bloodless, derivative puddle of pap. Heck, even the title stinks of mid-season replacement status ("Coming up next, she ain't 'fraid of no ghost! Cybill Shepherd and Ted Danson star in 'Over Her Dead Body'"). Right from the first frame, the production starts flinging toe-curling screenwriting 101 crud toward the paying crowd at a frightening velocity. Moviegoers, we all deserve better.

"Dead Body" is caught in a web of routine, trotting out the rom-com formula without mercy. It's almost disturbing how much of this movie has been viewed in both better and worse creations, but the bottom line is Lowell has no talent and no instincts to elevate the screenplay away from eye-rolling examples of absolute incompetence. Any faceless filmmaker could've made this picture, and frankly I wish someone else had.

How any actors could be attracted to this route lesson of spirit-world jealousy makes my head hurt. Somehow nabbing Paul Rudd to play the male lead is even more confusing. Perhaps Rudd had a house payment that needed attending to, but I'm thrilled he showed up for shooting. Desperately going off the page in an effort to push aside Lowell's crummy writing, Rudd's instinct for improvisation is one of the few aspects of "Dead Body" worth sticking around for. His dead eyes speak volumes about the professional holding pattern he's engaged in, but his quick tongue scores some smiles; a reaction the picture seems allergic to.

While no one in their right mind would believe Rudd and Longoria as a couple, the actor has more interesting chemistry with Lake Bell, who throws performance curveballs of her own to keep the movie mildly palatable. Bell is a terrific performer, and she pushes hard to keep "Dead Body" afloat with askew line readings and forced, but diverting Lucyesque slapstick that she lunges for with admirable aplomb. Of course, Rudd and Bell can only goes as far as Lowell allows, and their efforts are further neutered by an odious supporting performance from Jason Biggs (painfully channeling the spirit of Mr. Bean) as Ashley's gay business partner and Longoria's grating turn as a vengeful, horrible actress. I mean spirit.

"Dead Body" sits comfortably on the rom-com guiderails, even to the end; set, of course, at an airport, where our hero races to prevent his true love from flying away, only to stumble over every possible slapstick setback an airport offers. Even viewers who see just two movies a year will have already witnessed a scene almost exactly like this one.

Filmfodder Grade: D+