Thanks to an attractive cast, the creamy cinematography of John Bailey, and the light touch of writer and first-time director Jeff Lowell, Over Her Dead Body is an uncommonly pleasant romantic-comic fantasy, in the Blithe Spirit spirit. A heavier touch would have easily been possible in dealing with a jealous ghost hell-bent on thwarting her former fiancé’s first attempt at another relationship, a year after her wedding-day death. The “haunting” presence of a departed loved one carries a cargo of psychological truth, and the unfolding plot spells out the hypothetical question of whether you would want your remaining loved one, after your departure, to go on grieving your absence till the end of time or go on to be happy with someone else: a heart-versus-head question, no longer hypothetical. A heavier touch, needless to add, would have made matters decidedly less pleasant. The implications are clear enough without it. (The heavier touch is felt only in a burst, a splutter, a thunder of flatulence humor: fantasy flatulence, illusory flatulence, but flatulence nevertheless.)
The attractiveness of the cast deserves a closer look, a look beneath the attractive surface. The chronically underemployed Paul Rudd, as the man in the middle, is sufficiently low-key to signal that he has not forgotten his loss, but not so despondently low-key as to be hopelessly and off-puttingly out of reach. Eva Longoria Parker, whose name lost a little something in euphony when she added the surname of her new husband, San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker, and whose screen character cloaks the actress in the white-bread name of “Katherine Anne Spencer,” has an even trickier part to play. At the start, she must be so wound-up on her wedding day, so high-handed with the hired help, so near the point where we want to strangle her ourselves, that we don’t feel too bad about it when an off-balance ice sculpture crushes her skull. The rest of the way, while essentially playing the villain, she must reclaim some humanity, provide some clue (if surface attractiveness is seen as insufficient) as to why Paul Rudd would ever have gotten engaged to her in the first place. I can’t say she entirely pulls it off, but I can say, in sympathy, that her romantic rival — an upstart caterer and, on the side, an ungifted psychic — does her no favors.
Lake Bell, whom I had never before seen nor heard of (a regular, I gather, on Boston Legal, among other TV series), can put up no competition in the glamour department. Coarse-featured, with a beaky nose, a strong brow and receding eyes, a wide and lopsided mouth, she suggests a Sandra Bernhard without the sneer. A healthy, earthy, outdoorsy type, she looks in full makeup — a rare occasion — vaguely like a drag queen. (Which reminds me to mention, among the attractions of the cast, Jason Biggs as a not altogether typical gay confidant, an inept partner in the catering business.) And even if she can be a bit of a motormouth, she’s got a good muffler and a smooth gearshift. She made me smile. (Something Longoria Parker didn’t.) In the average romantic comedy, she would likely be relegated to the bosom-buddy role, the Joan Cusack or Judy Greer role. Her casting in the lead, a nod to the comic over the romantic, and a nod to personality over pulchritude, amounts in contemporary Hollywood to a death-defying risk. I can only hope that others, on seeing the rewards, will take the risk, too. Those rewards, when you glance at the opening-weekend box-office report, are plainly not financial. Death was not defied.
The Eye, the first English-language enterprise of the young French filmmaking team of David Moreau and Xavier Palud, is a ho-hum Hollywood re-do of a Hong Kong horror, wherein a blind classical violinist receives corneal transplants and, along with them, blurry visions of the world around her, other worlds, past happenings, ghosts, and whatnot. (Is it normal, doctor, to see the souls of the departed being escorted by shades to the Other Side?) Her great tragedy had always been that she could not look in the mirror and see Jessica Alba, and the tragedy continues even after she regains her sight: the movie’s creepiest moment is precisely in front of a mirror. Her great blessing, by compensation, is that she could never see herself playing the violin: one moving part only, the right shoulder joint, like a cardboard-cutout puppet, the bent arm swinging back and forth on its hinge, the rest of her body stock-still. You wonder whether Alba, to “prepare” for the part, bothered to look at concert footage of Anne-Sophie Mutter, Sarah Chang, Leila Josefowicz, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, anybody at all.
In Bruges, the feature debut of writer-director Martin McDonagh, dispatches two British hit men to lie low, after a job with messy collateral damage, in the “fairy-tale” Medieval town near the coast of Belgium, where one of them (the tousled Brendan Gleeson) is interested in seeing the sights while the other (the tight-wire Colin Farrell) sizes the place up as a “shithole,” excepting only a Bosch museum piece. Together they engage in forced, overwritten, exhibitionistic comic dialogue at some variance with the guilty conscience and the thoughts of suicide. Ralph Fiennes, attempting to do (if not outdo) Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, comes into it late as a hot-tempered, high-principled crime boss. A little later, bullets fly, blood flows. The beauties of the town survive all this, and even the wan photography.
Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days and 30 Nights, Hollywood to the Heartland is pretty self-explanatory. About all the title leaves out are the names of the four lower-echelon standup comics on the barnstorming tour organized and hosted by Vince Vaughn (alphabetically, Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst, and Sebastian Maniscalco) as well as the names of the thirty stopping points on their itinerary, slightly revised in midcourse by Hurricane Katrina. The trip, recorded in dreary video, is too lengthy for filmmaker Ari Sandel (another first-timer) to do justice to any aspect of it — the shape and pace of the comedians’ routines, the backstage activity, the life on the road — but you get hints, whiffs, of all of it, occasionally even a hint or whiff of humor.