After recent content-related headaches over “Saving Private Ryan” and “Monday Night Football,” ABC serves up some red-state TV for the holidays. Mitch Albom followed “Tuesdays With Morrie” by writing this gauzy, feel-good novel, which he’s transformed into an equally gauzy, feel-good movie. Although it’s hard to fathom why a pamphlet-sized book required a three-hour adaptation, Albom’s name sitting above the title apparently made every word precious. Pic’s reassuringly bland religious theme should kill in the heartland, while fidgety pagans on the coasts wait impatiently for the return of “Desperate Housewives.”
Albom’s New Age-y strain of “It’s a Wonderful Life”-meets-“This Is Your Life” is full of corny homilies that sound better in print — among them, “There are no random acts. We are all connected,” “Strangers are just family you have yet to come to know” and “No life is a waste.” Perhaps not, but I can think of better ways to squander three hours.
Fortunately, someone had the good sense to cast Jon Voight, who gives his all to the role of 83-year-old Eddie, an amusement park maintenance man who dies in an accident and wakes up in heaven. Questioning what he sees as an unfulfilled existence in which he never escaped his boyhood home or pursued his career dreams, Eddie encounters a series of characters — from his late wife (Dagmara Dominczyk) to relative strangers — who illuminate moments from his life.
Eddie sees himself as a young man (Steven Grayhm), dealing with his abusive father and enduring the horrors of World War II. At each level new blind spots are filled in, helping him forgive if not forget, and put all those painful memories behind him.
Typical of producer Robert Halmi Sr.’s filmography, it’s an impeccably groomed production (proving, once and for all, that the road to Heaven goes through Vancouver) with some striking visuals, and director Lloyd Kramer elicits solid performances from Voight, Grayhm and Dominczyk.
The problem rather lies with Albom’s narrative, which you either buy into or don’t. While there’s nothing wrong with a heartwarming story of redemption here and there, this feels like little more than pabulum — a predigested fable with less substance than the “We Are the World” video.
As a more practical matter, the running time is a bit flabby. Scrooge, after all, is usually redeemed in 90 minutes or so, though Michael Imperioli, Ellen Burstyn and Jeff Daniels are all properly beatific in portraying the various ghosts of, er, life past.
Whatever its shortcomings, the movie provides an unapologetically sappy view of an afterlife filled with bliss, a merciful God and a happily forever-after that rationalizes away life’s disappointments, just in time for the Christmas crunch. Put that all together and it’s a good bet many will spend Sunday with Eddie, God help us all.