A recent trend in film making is to put out a direct to DVD movie based on cancelled TV shows that have a cult following. They've done it with Farscape, Stargate SG-1, and even Firefly (which was released theatrically.) The latest in film in this trend is Dead Like Me: Life After Death which revisits the characters of the cancelled-too-soon Showtime series. Like the other TV show movies, this one fails to capture the spark that the original had but is a nice visit none the less.
The first few minutes of the movie is a nice recap of the premise of the series. Georgia Lass (or George as she likes to be called,) is an angst filled 18-year-old girl who has a miserable life. She's dropped out of college, is living at home, she can't find a job, her mother drives her to distraction, and she doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. She is very cynical and just doesn't see the point of it all. (In an early episode she muses, "I don't have a lot of interest in being a good person or a bad person. From what I can tell, either way you're screwed.") Her life takes a dramatic turn when she's hit in the head by a toilet from a Russian space station that's fallen from orbit: she dies.
While this would end most stories, it is just the start of George's. It turns out that she has become the Grim Reaper. Well, one of them anyway. It turns out that there are a number of reapers whose job it is to claim the souls of those that die and pass them along to the afterlife. Each reaper has an unknown numbers of souls to collect, and when they reach that number they get promoted. George happened to be the last soul her reaper needed, so she inherits his job; whether she likes it or not.
It turns out that being an undead reaper isn't such a great job. There isn't any pay, you have lousy hours, and you still have to support yourself somehow. But what are ya gonna do? There's really no alternative.
As the film opens, the restaurant were George and the other reapers in the area would meet every day has burned down and the old boss, Rube, is no where to be seen. They soon find out that Rube has passed on and that they have a new boss, Cameron Kane (Henry Ian Cusick). He's a slick and very wealthy man who inherited Rube's job because he gets things done and is supposed to tighten up the groups performance. To this end he gives them all fancy cell phones where he'll text them their assignments and has them eating at posh restaurants and living in his mansion.
The only problem is that Cameron isn't good at his job. He messes up assignments and gives incorrect times. When the reapers complain, he points out that their dead, and that nothing they do really matters. The group takes this to heart and starts breaking the rules. The tough as nails cop, Roxy (Jasmine Guy) saves a drowning man instead of saving him, and when Daisy (originally played by Laura Harris but replaced by Sarah Wynter in this film) is pressed for time she doesn't lead her victim 'into the light' as she's supposed to.
The worst offender however is George who decides that she's finally going to reveal herself to her sister. All of these actions later come back to haunt the reapers.
I really enjoyed the show while it was on, and was eagerly looking forward to this direct-to-DVD movie. Unfortunately this film wasn't able to capture the quirkiness of the show. Part of that was the film's intent. The filmmakers state in the extras that they were trying to show that George had matured in the three years since the series ended, and they succeeded with that. She's content working at Happy Time, and has even bought into the corporate BS and is happy to pass it on to her fellow employees. But that's not the George from the series. This mature George doesn't have a sardonic wit and the lack of cutting quips really lessens the show.
They also played with some of the rules that were established or implied in the series. At one point George tries to take someone's soul, albeit a bit later than she was supposed to, and she can't. She didn't have a problem with that in series. It's implied that something had to happen before the person she was supposed to reap was able to pass on, but if that's the case, why did she get the message in the first place. There's also a fairly big plot hole concerning the new boss Cameron. If' he's such a screw up (which he is) why was he put in charge in the first place? That quandary had me scratching my head for most of the film.
That's not to say it was all bad. There were some parts that were very reminiscent of the series best moments. The suicide at the beginning was darkly humorous, and the ultimate fate of Cameron was also comical in a disturbing way. Roxy and Mason were their old selves for most of the time too, and it was very nice to see the whole gang once again.
It's too bad that Laura Harris had a scheduling conflict and couldn't reprise her role as Daisy once again. While Sarah Wynter physically resembles Harris, she was all wrong for the part. She came across as bossy rather than as a floozy, and she lacked the vulnerable interior that Harris was able to project. It's really too bad, because her scenes dragged the film down.
Of course the biggest hole was Mandy Patinkin who played Rube. He was sorely missed, but since he walked out on his show "Criminal Minds" with no notice, he's persona non grata in
The 5.1 English soundtrack was very satisfying. The sound was clear and there was good use made of the full soundstage, with crashes and other audio effects coming from all corners of the room. The music sounded bright and crisp. There wasn't any evidence of hiss or distortion. There are English subtitles. A very good sounding disc.
The video quality of the anamorphic 1.78:1 image was very good. The lines were nice and tight and the image was sharp. There were no noticeable digital artifacts and the dreaded edge enhancement was nonexistent. I colors were bright and the detail and contrast were also very good. A nice solid presentation.
In addition to the film there is a commentary track with director Stephen Herek and star Ellen Muth. It was an average commentary with some nice nuggets of information but nothing really earth shattering. There's also a featurette "Back from the Dead: Resurrecting Dead Like Me" which was a bit of a disappointment. It was mostly fluff with the actors and creative staff all complimenting the original series and each other.
While this movie has some flaws, it was nice to spend some time with these characters again. The ending to the movie wasn't as touching or fitting as the conclusion to the series, but it does expand on George's character and leaves a lot of room for more movies. When all is said and done, the positives outweigh the negatives and this is a film worth owning. Recommended.