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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Peter Iovino)

photo caption:
I'M HERE TO HELP YOU!: Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) greets one of her patients in the emergency room of the hospital where she is a resident physician.end caption.

Just Like Heaven: Reese and Ruffalo Remarkable in Thinly-Veiled Variation on "Ghost"

Movie Review by Kam Williams

For years, cinephiles have bemoaned the disappearance of the sophisticated Hollywood film which relies on witty repartee and character development. The genre has given way to films featuring crude humor, non-stop action, and eye-popping special effects.

With an eye on the bottom line, most studio executives have opted to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

However, one exception to this trend is the remake. So, Mark Waters, who directed a new version of Freaky Friday in 2003, is back with Just Like Heaven, a thinly disguised remake of Ghost, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1991.

Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon are scriptwriters who are experienced in updating screen classics. Tolan was responsible for the recent revision of Bedazzled, while Dixon worked on remakes of both The Thomas Crown Affair and Freaky Friday.

By changing the title, they did not need to credit Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote Ghost. However, anyone who remembers it, which starred Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze, and Whoopi Golderg, will see the similarities.

That bittersweet love story took place inside a rented loft where the spirit of a recently murdered man desperately tries to warn his grieving girlfriend of a plot to take her life. He enlists the assistance of a psychic played by Ms. Goldberg in a memorable performance for which she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

I mention all of the above because Just Like Heaven revisits most of these same elements, but changes the genders of some characters. Reese Witherspoon stars as Dr. Elizabeth Masterson, a workaholic M.D. who ends up in a coma after a head on car crash. Mark Ruffalo co-stars as David Abbott, the lonely stranger who rents her San Francisco penthouse after it is put on the market three months later.

Elizabeth's ghost haunts the apartment, because she needs help to prevent Dr. Rushton (Ben Shenkman), the colleague who covets her position, from pulling the plug on her prematurely, after he unilaterally declares her brain-dead. She and David have an ally in Darryl (John Heder), a clerk at a book store devoted to the supernatural.

Despite the similarities, Just Like Heaven has enough fresh jokes and unique plot twists to stand on its own. The production has added a few colorful characters, including David's concerned psychiatrist (Donal Logue) and Elizabeth's skeptical sister (Dina Spybey).

Kudos to Witherspoon and Ruffalo for generating considerable screen chemistry in their first movie opposite each other. In fact, they're convincing enough to ensure a teary eyed send off that makes you forget that you're watching a shameless rip-off.

Excellent (4 stars). Rating: PG-13 for sexual content. Running time: 95 minutes. Studio: Dreamworks Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.



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