Don’t expect too much from a movie that begins with a dreadful lite-rock rendition of one of the Cure’s most enduring songs. Reese Witherspoon’s latest stock romantic comedy has a pedigree that might lead you to hope for something more: She stars opposite the immensely talented indie actor Mark Ruffalo; the director, Mark Waters, was responsible for the wittier-than-average teen flick Mean Girls; and there are inspired supporting turns from oddballs like Donal Logue and even Napoleon Dynamite himself, Jon Heder. Even the script, though derivative, recalls some of the better heavenly fantasies of the ’30s. But like the cloying, acoustic version of the title song, the movie tries to be both an homage to and a hip update of a familiar tale, and ends up just being cutesy and irritating.

The lead character herself is in a constant state of irritation. Witherspoon plays Elizabeth, a hard-driving young doctor who literally never stops to smell the roses all around her. But after a close encounter with a semi, Elizabeth has all the time in the world: her body is in a coma, but she’s haunting the city as a ghostly apparition. Worse, a hunky, presumably wealthy slacker named David (Ruffalo) has rented out her apartment, fully furnished, and somehow happens to be the only person who can see her. After much mutual hatred, they fall in love, but not before David learns that he has to race against the clock — and against Elizabeth’s living will — to save her soul.

It’s bad enough that a movie this sugary invokes the Terri Schiavo debate, but the real crime is that the two talented leads share no real chemistry. After bickering for an hour, they’re thrust into a series of contrived situations, each one more implausible than the last. Waters attempts to inject some of the catty, hip humor that made Mean Girls and Freaky Friday surprisingly decent, but like the Cure’s original version of “Just Like Heaven” playing during the credits, it’s too little, too late.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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