Stop making séance

Oh yes, darling, let’s do it! Let’s phone in a dull romantic comedy and cash our checks together!

Oh yes, darling, let’s do it! Let’s phone in a dull romantic comedy and cash our checks together!

Rated 2.0

Over Her Dead Body may have whipped up a bit of enthusiasm when writer-director Jeff Lowell pitched it to the suits at New Line Cinema, but probably not all that much. It’s a clanking Frankenstein of a movie, stitched together from pieces plundered from the bodies of romantic comedies that went before; it has that much in common with 27 Dresses. What it doesn’t have is a dazzling turn by a genuine star aborning like Katherine Heigl. Instead, it has a number of appealing, talented people doing what they can with the material while no doubt wishing they were somewhere else.

Paul Rudd, at least, has that wish more or less wired into his character. He plays Henry, the fiancé of Kate (Eva Longoria Parker). Or rather, former fiancé—Kate now being dead, crushed on their wedding day by a full-size ice sculpture of an angel. “Sad as I am,” says Henry, “I can appreciate the irony”—proving that either Henry or Jeff Lowell doesn’t really know what irony is.

Henry says this at the place from which he is wishing he were somewhere else: the apartment/office of Ashley (Lake Bell). He’s been dragged there under protest by his meddling sister Chloe (Lindsay Sloane). Ashley is either a psychic with a catering business on the side or vice versa—Lowell’s script isn’t clear on this point—and Chloe hopes that Ashley can contact Kate “on the other side,” and that she (Kate) will tell her (Ashley) that he (Henry) has mourned long enough and should move on with his life.

Toward that end, Chloe also sneaks into Henry’s apartment and steals Kate’s diary so that Ashley—just in case the séances don’t work out—can pepper her readings with some details that only Kate would know.

Meanwhile, Ashley, who is beginning to fall for Henry, is amazed to find herself face to face with the ghost of Kate. Kate, having been in life a bit of a conniver herself, knows just what Ashley is up to and vows to make her regret any moves she makes on Henry. (Is Ashley amazed because she is, in fact, a phony psychic? Lowell is unclear on this point, too.)

Commenting wryly on all this from the sidelines is Jason Biggs as that reliable staple of postmodern romantic comedy, the gay best friend. Lowell at least tries to put a new wrinkle on this stock character, but, as with much of the movie, he fumbles it. Biggs has some nice moments (and, par for the course, most of the funniest lines), but he’s left floundering when Lowell’s new wrinkle turns sour during the third act.

Anyone with a C average in Intro to Screenwriting can see where all this is headed; even Lowell’s “surprises” are predictable. Henry will find out about the purloined diary and spend much of the last half-hour in a self-righteous pout. Even Ashley will find something to sulk about. It will finally dawn on Kate that she is, well, you know, dead. Everyone will spend a few moments in a mopey purgatory, drooping around town while David Kitay’s music boo-hoos on the soundtrack. And finally, everything will come to a head at the airport, where even the most stringent security will be unable to interfere with the obligatory don’t-get-on-that-plane-can’t-you-see-I-love-you scene. There’s also, so help me, a parrot involved—one of Lowell’s ostensible surprises that we see coming from a mile away.

Through all this, the performers give it a halfhearted try while wishing this sow’s ear could be hammered into a more becoming purse. Eva Longoria Parker (taking a break from Desperate Housewives) play-acts like a varsity cheerleader in the senior-class play; I half-expected someone to leap up in the audience with a camcorder and shout, “That’s my little girl!” Lake Bell’s enormous eyes and wide, toothy smile seem ideal for broad comedy, though maybe not quite this broad. And Paul Rudd underplays the bemused hero as if he’s not sure it’s worth trying too hard. As the bottom two of an essentially five-character show, Jason Biggs and Lindsay Sloane manage to suggest both that they’re being wasted and that their characters are more interesting than they probably are.

Through it all, Lowell directs like a cop at an accident scene: “Let’s go, folks, move along. There’s nothing to see here.” And sadly, he’s right.