Over Her Dead Body

Deceased fiancee Eva Longoria Parker returns to haunt Paul Rudd's subsequent romantic prospects in "Over Her Dead Body." But what's really spooky is that even the weakest "Desperate Housewives" episode packs more heat than this tepid romantic comedy-fantasy, whose basic plot gimmick has been done as far back as "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir."

Kate - Eva Longoria Parker Henry - Paul Rudd Ashley - Lake Bell Dan - Jason Biggs Chloe - Lindsay Sloane Sculptor - Stephen Root

Deceased fiancee Eva Longoria Parker returns to haunt Paul Rudd’s subsequent romantic prospects in “Over Her Dead Body.” But what’s really spooky is that even the weakest “Desperate Housewives” episode packs more heat than this tepid romantic comedy-fantasy, whose basic plot gimmick has been done as far back as “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” Vet sitcom writer Jeff Lowell’s feature directorial debut is short on charm and laughs, and will expire quickly before an OK afterlife on DVD, cable and airplanes.

Just before her lavish outdoor wedding to Long Beach veterinarian Henry (Rudd), Kate (Longoria Parker) is exhibiting a Type A-plus personality, driving the caterers and everyone else mad with her micromanagement. Mortified that the ice-sculpture angel she’d ordered arrives sans wings, she orders the boozy artist (Stephen Root) to haul it away.

But it accidentally falls on her, abruptly terminating more than just the nuptials. Waking in an all-white limbo, Kate proves so indignant and argumentative with a real (and wingless) angel that she’s sent off — neither to heaven nor hell, just off — without the “orientation instructions” the angel gave up trying to give her.

A year later, Henry’s sister Chloe (Lindsay Sloane) wants to get him out of his funk and back onto the dating scene. She figures he needs closure and badgers him into an appointment with her acquaintance Ashley (Lake Bell), a part-time psychic.

Chloe steals Kate’s old diary and begs reluctant Ashley to fool Henry into thinking Kate wants him get on with his life. This works, but it also brings restless ghost-Kate onto the scene. Furious at her rival’s duplicity, she finds she can be seen/heard only by Ashley (as well as animals), using that to terrify the young woman out of a tentative, mutually sparked relationship with Henry. Hilarity does not ensue en route to Kate’s inevitable realization of what she has to do (and really wants, anyway) to get into heaven.

Slapstick, character writing and situations are generic at best. There’s one bright idea — involving a parrot — but it’s canceled out by the elaboration of a bad one that tries to put a cute (but condescending) twist on Jason Biggs’ role as Ashley’s (yawn) funny gay best friend.

Rudd, who was delightful last year in everything from “Knocked Up” to “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” proves that not even he can wring wit from this script’s stone. He’s still better than the material, as is “Boston Legal’s” Bell, despite little chemistry between them.

Sloane’s Chloe suffers from being one flaky-girl-type too many. Longoria Parker’s part is a one-note bitch that she does nothing to make funny or distinctive beyond looking good.

This latter quality the pic itself achieves, though the widescreen lensing is so sunny-SoCal, you’d think Los Angelenos virtually swim in cream and orange. Other design aspects are glossily pro on a budget. David Kitay’s score and soundtracked pop music cues are Contempo Romantic Comedy 101.

Over Her Dead Body

Production: A New Line Cinema release of a New Line and Gold Circle Films presentation of a Safran Co. production. Produced by Paul Brooks, Peter Safran. Executive producers, Scott Niemeyer, Norm Waitt. Directed, written by Jeff Lowell.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), John Bailey; editor, Matthew Friedman; music, David Kitay; music supervisor, Sarah Webster; production designer, Cory Lorenzen; art director, Nathan Ogilvie; set decorator, Tara Stephenson; costume designer, Tracy Tynan; sound (Dolby/DTS/SDDS), James Tanenbaum; sound designers, James Fonnyadt, Devan Kraushar; FX, Amalgamated Pixels; assistant director, Tony Steinberg; casting, Eyde Belasco. Reviewed at Variety Club Screening Room, San Francisco, Jan. 14, 2008. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: Kate - Eva Longoria Parker Henry - Paul Rudd Ashley - Lake Bell Dan - Jason Biggs Chloe - Lindsay Sloane Sculptor - Stephen Root

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