Over Her Dead Body: Romantic Comedy, Starring Eva Langoria

Romantic ghost stories are a tricky proposition, calling for inspired imagination, light touch, charming performances, all of which are missing from the disappointingly bland and senseless romantic comedy “Over Her Dead Body,” starring Eva Longoria Parker.

Arguably, Longoria Parker is the least impressive of TV’s four “Desperate Housewives,” a combo of playing the most stereotypical, one-dimensional role and perhaps limited range as an actress. In this comedy, she gives another one-note performance. If Longoria Parker continues to make mediocre (and below) pictures like “The Sentinel” and “Harsh Times,” she will have a short career as a Hollywood actress-despite goody looks and sex appeal.

The film’s only redeeming quality, which is not enough to rescue it from oblivion, is Paul Rudd, who has some good moments and funny lines, but he is stuck in a comedy that lacks the energy and originality of his previous films, “Knocked Up,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” both directed by Judd Apathow.

Watching “Over Her Dead Body,” you are inevitably reminded of the charming ghost screwball comedies Hollywood used to make, such as the 1937 classic, “Topper,” starring Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, and Roland Young, which led to two sequels, became a TV series and was remade as a TV movie in 1979.

Then there’s David Lean’s delectable adaptation of Noel Coward’s play “Blithe Spirit” (1945), with a terrific performance by Rex Harrison, as a man whose dead wife reappears to haunt him in his new marriage. More recently, Warren Beatty starred in “Heaven Can Wait” (1978), itself a remake of the 1943 “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” as a footbal stars who dies prematurely only to return to life in another man’s body.

Unfortunately, every element in “Over Her Dead Body” is routine and flat, and way below the conventions of the above “spirit” romances and/or comedies. Take, for instance, the literal title, which is meant to be funny and contemporary.

Longoria Parker plays Kate, an exceedingly demanding and controlling woman who obsesses over every little detail. When the story begins, she is about to be married to Henry (Paul Rudd), an easy-going veterinarian, who’s somehow able to calm Kate down during the chaotic preparations of their wedding. The script would like us to believe that Kate and Henry are perfect for each other, though there is not much evidence of that on screen.

As fate would have it, on her wedding day, in her obsessive attempt to make everything perfect, Kate is accidentally killed by a falling ice sculpture of an angel. Fianc Henry is traumatized by the news. A full year later, when he’s still depressed and unable to move on with life, Henry’s sister Chloe (Lindsay Sloane) convinces him to ask for permission from Kate’s spirit to start life anew.

What’s a man to do Though skeptical, at Chloe’s urging, Henry agrees to meet Ashley (Lake Bell), a psychic who also runs a catering company with her gay friend, Dan (Jason Biggs). The ideas of catering as a business and having a gay friend as confidant have been so overused in comedies that they have become clichs.

Predictably, the initial reading doesn’t work, turning Henry even more skeptical and cynical than before. Nonetheless, Ashley becomes more alluring when she refuses to get paid for her services. Unfazed, Chloe resorts to other strategies to help her brother move on with his life, like stealing Kate’s diary from Henry and giving it to Ashley, who then uses the journal’s invaluable information, while pretending to communicate with Kate’s ghost.

Also predictably, Henry and Ashley fall in love, failing to realize that Kate is very much around–and still in control-when she reveals herself as a disgruntled, possessive ghost. Since Ashley is the only person who can communicate with Kate, the saga switches to jealous competition between two femmes vying for the same man.

A series of uninspired TV-like sketches ensues, based on the premise of Kate being upset that Ashley has designs on her former fianc, and Ashley shaken by the sudden appearance. Henry and Ashley’s relationship just infuriates Kate, putting her on the war path to prevent him from dating her nemesis. She turns Ashley’s life into hell, using her ghostly powers to torment her. However, in order to get what she truly wants, Ashley ultimately matches Kate at her own game.

In the hands of a more skillful writer and inventive director, “Over Her Dead Body” could have been a mildly amusing trifle about the catty battle between two desirable and desperate women-a ghost and a psychic–for the love of one guy. But Jeff Lowell, whose claim to notoriety is scripting “John Tucker Must Die,” makes an awkward, vastly disappointing feature directorial debut that doesn’t show any technical facility as a helmer.

Ghost movies with psychics, both comedies and melodramas, are admittedly gimmicky, because they ask the audience to suspend disbelief, accept the fantasy, and also root-at least for a while-for both the dead and the living, as was evident in the 1989 Oscar-nominated drama “Ghost,” for which Whoopi Goldberg won the Supporting Actress Oscar for playing a psychic mediating between two lovers, one dead (Patrick Swayze) the other alive and longing (Demi Moore).

Given the right material, Lake Bell could enjoy a more prominent Hollywood career as a comedienne, and it’s a testament to her skills and presence that she make her scenes less bland and pedestrian than they have the right to be, based on the silly writing.

Pity the gifted Paul Rudd, who doesn’t feel right with either woman, due to the clunky direction and writing. Satndards are way below the average TV sitcom in smarts, tone, and pacing, not to mention one-liners and laughter ratio.

The PG-13 rating must have imposed limitations on the text, which should have been nastier, wittier, sexier, and more foul-mouthed than it is. It’s commonsense that January is the worst month, during which Hollywood dumps its leftovers and turkeys. Hopefully, “Over Her Dead Body,” which opens February 1, will not serve an omen for the rest of the month.

Mercifully, the comedy’s running time is only 89 minutes, including end credits. New Line Cinema should not be blamed for this awful fare because it didn’t make it; the studio is only distributing a film that was produced by Gold Circle and the Safran Company.

Cast

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

Credits

A New Line Cinema release of a 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.
Camera: 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: James Tanenbaum; sound designers, James Fonnyadt, Devan Kraushar.
FX: Amalgamated Pixels.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 94 Minutes.