One of cinema’s ironclad laws is that it’s simply not possible for a divine spirit to get banished to the mortal realm and somehow not fall in love unadvisedly with some fetching human specimen. And so from the moment we first see Bruce Greenwood (as the otherworldly Zacariah) lay eyes on Melissa Gilbert (playing lonely single mom Rebecca), we pretty much know where CBS’ “The Soul Collector” is headed. And that’s really OK. It’s Sunday night, right after “Touched By An Angel,” and hokum is the name of the game. We all must live with it.
This is at least better than “The Bill Collector,” to be sure. Actually, it’s more like “Highway to Helena.” Only a network reaching out to its rural demos would opt to adapt a story (based on the book “A Pocketful of Paradise” by Kathleen Kane) about a death-knell chaperone who gets evicted to Earth by way of a cattle ranch. Hey, people in the hinterlands die too!
Greenwood is the aforementioned Zacariah (or just plain Zac to people who aren’t yet dead). As punishment for playing at the gaming tables of Vegas — or so it appears — Zac is disciplined by his celestial boss Mordecai (an earnest perf from Ossie Davis) to the tune of spending a month with a mortal family in dire financial and livestock straits. What’s the deal? Well, Zac’s penance of an assignment forces him to assimilate and collect a single soul to tote back to the Pearly Gates (or wherever).
In the meantime, Zac must convince hardened but nubile ranchhand Rebecca (Gilbert) and an assortment of skeptical menfolk like Jake (Todd Allen) and Charlie (Buck Taylor) that he can tell them nothing of his past due to amnesia. The condition evidently manifests itself in Zac’s inability to drink coffee, hold a fork or even speak properly. Naturally, Becs is smitten.
Appearing lame and semi-catatonic proves to be a babe magnet.
Everything in “The Soul Collector” follows a more or less predictable, if heartfelt and occasionally poignant path in Joyce Brotman’s script. Death cliches abound, such as the one about going into that bright light. But what’s the deal with soul collectors all wearing suits that make them resemble life insurance salesmen? Do the Prudential agents now insist on escorting you to the Great Beyond, just to be sure where their money’s going?
Helmer Michael Scott coaxes soulful work from Gilbert and Greenwood, who have just enough chemistry to make their romance believable — to a point. The fantasy takes over when Zac insists he has “never been human before” as he makes perfect human love to Rebecca. And what’s the deal with the fact that bullets to the chest bounce right off of Zac, but when a car strikes him it’s lights out?
Whatever. Even if “The Soul Collector” doesn’t always cover its mortal bases, it covers them well enough to create some agreeably sappy sentiment. Camera work from Don Fauntleroy and his team sparkles. Rest of tech credits are swell.