Josh Bell

We've now gotten to the point at which every possible obstacle to love has been exhausted for romantic comedies, so that Reese Witherspoon's latest entry in her bid to become the new Meg Ryan, Just Like Heaven, has her character appear as a spirit to the hunky but sensitive guy (Mark Ruffalo) she's destined to be with. No longer are wacky misunderstandings and unfortunate engagements to obvious non-soul-mates enough; now only death (or the appearance thereof) is sufficiently dire to impede love for 90 on-screen minutes.

Thus we have a syrupy romantic comedy that begins with a car accident, as Witherspoon's Dr. Elizabeth Martinson, on her way home from another 26-hour hospital shift to wallow in the loneliness that comes with being a career-minded gal in a Hollywood rom-com, runs head-on into a semi-truck. Are you charmed yet?

Months later, Ruffalo's David Abbott moves into Elizabeth's improbably big San Francisco apartment, which is also still full of her stuff. Lonely and isolated two years after his wife's death, David nearly runs right into Elizabeth on his first night in the place. She angrily demands to know what he's doing in her apartment, but slowly comes to realize, after walking through a few walls, that she's not exactly all there.

Strangely enough, the film then follows most of the basic conventions, including initial bickering, the warming up to one another, the contrived misunderstanding and the feel-good reconciliation. Woven into the conventional story is a more unconventional—but no less predictable—one of searching for answers about Elizabeth's metaphysical condition, a story line that results in a strangely moralistic message about a hot-button political issue.

That's a minor point in what is really a standard romantic comedy, and in that area the film succeeds fitfully. Witherspoon and Ruffalo have minimal chemistry, but the actress has done this role so many times, she can make it believable in her sleep. There are some half-decent laughs, many courtesy of Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder playing a psychic whose demeanor is suspiciously similar to a certain cult movie hero. But the film can never escape its fate of mediocrity, something Witherspoon would be wise to move away from before she really does become the new Meg Ryan and loses all of her box-office clout.

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