It's getting tougher and tougher to break new ground in the romantic comedy genre, isn't it? Though director Mark Waters' Just Like Heaven (2005) does a decent job of pretending we haven't seen its story before, the end result is a film that's best suited for those who…well, haven't. Like dozens of romantic comedies before it, Just Like Heaven generally plays it safe, opting for plenty of "same old, same old" when it could've gone in half a dozen more interesting directions along the way. Die-hard fans of the genre should still find a lot to like here, though: the romance actually isn't half-bad and neither is the comedy, so those looking for the emotional distraction should walk away happy. Haters of the genre, on the other hand, are well advised to run screaming into the hills.
As someone planted firmly in the middle-ground of this camp, I had no choice but to garner mixed feelings for Just Like Heaven before, during, and after its 90-minute running time. It's a half-step better than most stale, tired examples of the genre, yet you'll have a hard time thoroughly enjoying it at the same time. Perhaps it's the uneven structure of the story, which mutates from slapstick comedy to sappy drama with virtually no time for a smooth transition. Perhaps it's the generally bland supporting cast, or the feeling that lead actors Reese Witherspoon (Election) and Mark Ruffalo (Collateral) are sleepwalking through a few scenes, almost as if they're back on the sets of Sweet Home Alabama and 13 Going On 30. Either way, if you've seen it and have no complaints, you're just not paying attention.
To its credit, though, at least Just Like Heaven starts off on the right foot. We can forgive the fact that Elizabeth Masterson (Witherspoon) and David Abbott (Ruffalo) don't have particularly fleshed-out backgrounds (one's a hurried young medical intern and the other's a lonely landscape architect mourning the loss of his wife), because this story's more about where the characters are going instead of where they've been. Soon after Masterson is involved in a near-fatal accident, she appears back in her apartment---which Ruffalo has recently moved into, except neither was really expecting company. After a few more chance encounters, she's convinced he's a squatter while he thinks she's a ghost. When the truth is revealed, Just Like Heaven turns into your standard issue "break into a hospital and steal a body" type deal, except now we've learned that Napoleon Dynamite has psychic abilities and ghosts always walk through walls…but oddly enough, they never fall through floors.
Questionable physics aside, let's get right to the point: Just Like Heaven doesn't make much sense when you really think about it---but, then again, neither does romance. The film does a passable job of filling its 90 minutes, though it could've been a smoother ride: after all, our two leads change from bitter roommates to star-crossed lovers in less than 30 minutes flat, and that's fast even by Hollywood romance standards. It all boils down to whether or not you're able to turn off your brain for a few hours, because let's be honest: this is the estrogen equivalent to a brainless action flick. Even so, if Just Like Heaven would've only had the guts to take a few risks along the way, it could've pleased a few more folks. As it stands, it's just above average for the genre. If that's good enough for you---or, by chance, you wear glitter nail polish---you'll probably have fun with this one.
With a better DVD treatment, Just Like Heaven may have redeemed the faults of the main feature, but this one-disc treatment from Dreamworks is "studio standard" from top to bottom. Although the technical presentation seems to get the job done, there's not much else of genuine interest here for all but the most ardent fans of the film. Let's have a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Just Like Heaven looks as good as you'd expect for a recent mainstream movie. Although the color saturation seems a bit too heavy in certain scenes (even for a romantic comedy), the image is generally pleasing and free from any major digital problems such as edge enhancement and the like. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is also good enough to get the job done, offering a clean presentation that, as expected, doesn't venture into the rear channels very often. English subtitles are included for both the main feature and the extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Seen above, the slightly animated menu designs are waaay too pink for their own good…but despite their cookie-cutter appearance, at least they're still easy to use. The 93-minute film has been divided into just over a dozen chapters, while no glaringly obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase with no inserts, though this screener copy may differ slightly from the official release.
From top to bottom, the extras on board Just Like Heaven are about as typically straightforward as most mainstream studio efforts. First up is an Audio Commentary with director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green and director of photography Daryn Okada. It's painfully standard as far as commentaries go, delivering a few interesting tidbits but nothing terribly interesting. Next up is a Promotional Featurette (14:34) recorded during the film's production (as evidenced by Reese Witherspoon's afterlife attire), while "Meet the Cast" (13:09) offers trade-off interviews with the cast and crew.
Also included is a Gag Reel (4:58)---this one's actually pretty funny, though it ends with a sappy montage for some reason. Winding down the extras is a series of four Deleted Scenes (5:35, with optional commentary by Waters), including an amusing alternate ending that the editor threw together just for fun, as well as a series of Previews for other Dreamworks DVDs. While fans of the film won't be blown away by the extras on board here, most of 'em are still worth looking through.
Both the main feature and the DVD don't offer anything new and different for adventurous viewers, but Just Like Heaven should still be worth a once-over for fans of the film or genre. So while this latest Reese Witherspoon vehicle isn't a bad choice for the weekend, it's not strong enough in any department to be a decent blind buy. Instead of spending $25 sight unseen, you'd probably be better off if you Rent It and bring home some flowers. You know, just for good measure.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor & office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA who also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. He also thoroughly enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.