As a rule, in romantic comedies you don't crush the female star to death in the first scene. In "Over Her Dead Body," however, Eva Longoria Parker's character Kate checks out early, squashed by a toppling ice sculpture as she pesters the reception staff before her wedding. It's one of the few off-kilter moments in an otherwise dead-on-arrival romantic comedy.
Kate sort of has it coming. An exasperating diva, she henpecks the staff over candelabra placement, the proximity of meat dishes to vegan entrees and the quasi-theological question of whether an ice-sculpture angel needs to have wings. She soon finds herself in a hazy afterlife where a spiritual concierge (without wings) explains the rules of conduct that Kate must follow to move upstairs.
Too wrapped up in her own drama to pay attention, Kate returns to Earth, keeping a jealous eye on her former fiancé, Henry (Paul Rudd). Henry's sister suggests he consult a psychic to work through his grief, and only soothsayer Ashley (Lake Bell) can see the interfering spirit. Gone but unwilling to be forgotten, the desperate ghostwife spies on her former boyfriend and the psychic and sabotages their budding relationship with humiliating, mean-spirited pranks. The results are a belabored rehash of "Ghost" and "Bridget Jones's Diary."
Bell has a genial screen presence, and Rudd adds an intriguing shiftiness to his flimsy part. We know he's a good guy -- he's a veterinarian, for goodness sake -- but you get the feeling that his halo of niceness could be a ruse. Rudd's noncommittal smirk and evasive glance warn that he could bolt at any moment, making him the kind of hard-to-get charmer that romcom audiences love to see brought to heel. While Bell and Rudd lack a romantic spark, they have a pleasant comic rapport.
Longoria Parker plays her role in snippy sitcom style, functioning less as an actress than a 95-pound punch-line delivery system. Some of the fault falls to writer/director Jeff Lowell, a longtime TV scribe with a knack for striking the most obvious note in any scene. Each role is a caricature. Jason Biggs, as Ashley's gay best pal with a secret, could have had some depth, but instead morphs from one stock character to a different type without ever becoming touching, funny or three-dimensional.
Unlike its stubborn corpse bride, "Over Her Dead Body" will decompose quickly in the memory before fading forever into video oblivion.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186