Instead of investing time and money in “Dying to Live,” couldn’t UPN execs have simply licensed an airing of “Ghost,” the movie it most obviously rips off? It may have cost a little more, but at least it would’ve guaranteed an audience. The latest in the netlet’s lamentable Thursday-night film series is a tedious, unfocused, secular version of those old religious movies which provided unconvincing re-enactments of teen life while attempting to warn young viewers of the dire consequences of their benignly evil ways.Jonathan Frakes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” does some serious slumming here, playing a guardian angel who basically pops up at the oddest times to gaze upon the antics of a group of teenagers with a kind of beatific dismay. His role here isn’t even explained until about 45 minutes into the film, when freshly scrubbed aspiring marine biologist Rachel (Hayley DuMond) dies. It’s a tragic, awkward and unconvincing demise: Rachel drowns after she and boyfriend Matthew (Gabriel Mann) sneak into the school swimming pool; she trips and performs a double header — into a steel post, and then, unconscious, into the pool — while her diving-whiz boyfriend is incapacitated. (Kids at this high school are easily rendered unconscious.) Angel Frakes rouses Rachel from her eternal rest at her funeral, where she sees her father, twisted with rage, kick her guilt-racked beau out of the ceremony. Frakes explains that she needs “closure,” then takes her on a walking tour of her death’s aftermath — her family’s deep grief, Matthew’s near suicidal behavior and the intervention of slutty, conniving Vanessa (Shannon Elizabeth), who puts the moves on Matt. Frakes’ passivity borders amusingly on sadism as Rachel beholds these wrenching moments. Eventually, Rachel discovers that Vanessa’s responsible for her death but has pinned it on Matthew, and must use the body of a friend — whose terminally weak heart somehow hasn’t stopped her from being on the swim team — to put things right. As the contrived melodrama escalates, the film’s message turns out to be that supporting characters don’t merit the same kind of cool “closure” that leads do. It would seem that no one ever got around to actually looking at the script before shooting began. Matthew’s father, who for unexplained reasons disapproves of the utterly wholesome Rachel, declares, “If you spent a little less time with your girlfriend and more time studying, you wouldn’t have to work so hard!” A later conversation between a pair of mortuary cosmetologists (“The body’s only a shell”) recalls some of the worst Ed Wood had to dish out. And for all the teen angst and sobbing after Rachel departs this realm, no one associated with the film would seem to have ever been within shouting distance of genuine grief: In one scene, Rachel watches her family moping deeply; seconds after Frakes tells her, “They’ll be fine,” they all measurably brighten. They’re even cheering Matthew on at the diving competition at film’s end. DuMond invests more conviction in her role than it’s due, and Linda Cardellini contributes spunk as the disposable sidekick; the rest of the cast simply go through the motions. Tech credits are perfunctory.
UPN; Thurs. April 22, 8 p.m
Filmed in San Diego by Stu Segall Prods., Goepp Circle Prods. and Paramount Television. Executive producers, Jonathan Frakes, Lisa J. Olin; producer, Stu Segall; associate producer, Sandi B. Hochman; director, Rob Hedden; writers, Hedden, Victor Bumbalo, from Bumbalo's story.
Camera, David Geddes; editors, Gib Jaffe, Jeff Canavan; production design, Bruce Buehner; music, Dennis McCarthy; casting, Elisa Goodman, Abra Edelman. Running time: 2 HOURS.
Will - Jonathan Frakes Rachel - Hayley DuMond Matthew - Gabriel Mann Leslie - Linda Cardellini Vanessa - Shannon Elizabeth Evan - Brian Poth