Dir: Jeff Lowell. US. 2008. 95 mins.
A languid, thinly sketched and habitually unfunny supernatural comedy that never scratches beyond the surface of its conceit, Over Her Dead Body quickly wears out its welcome in both this world and the next. Delving into a love triangle comprised of a pleasant guy, the psychic who falls for him and the vengeful, deceased fiance trying to keep them apart, the movie works neither in the vein of an exaggerated, farcical romantic rivalry, a la Death Becomes Her, or a more traditional romantic comedy.

Mid-eight-figure grosses would be a pipedream for the film, given its lack of a bankable solo big screen star. The benefits of Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria Parker's high celebrity profile, plus accrued affection for Paul Rudd from his many supporting turns in big box office hits (Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), might help lure in a middling first weekend audience, but deadly word-of-mouth on the picture should dent any chances at breakout success.

With 27 Dresses still in theatres and performing strongly, and the more high-profile pairing of Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson swooping in the following weekend in the adventure comedy Fool's Gold, anything beyond a final haul of $30-40 million domestically would represent Over Her Dead Body outperforming its worth. Ancillary prospects will be further muted pending some sort of future breakout success for newcomer lead Lake Bell. The universality of its supernatural hook, though, might help the movie do a little more business internationally than its execution warrants.

A year after his tightly wound bride, Kate (Longoria Parker), is crushed by a falling ice sculpture on their wedding day, veterinarian Henry (Rudd) gets roped into seeing a psychic by his well-meaning younger sister Chloe (Lindsay Sloane), who just wants to restore some easygoing normalcy to her mopey brother's life.

The initial reading with Ashley (Bell), a psychic who also runs a catering company with her gay best friend, Dan (Jason Biggs), doesn't reveal anything, leaving Henry more sceptical than ever. Not easily deterred, though, Chloe steals the late Kate's diary and gives it to Ashley, so she can use the private information to pretend to communicate with Kate's ghost, and thus 'release' Henry from obligation.

As Ashley begins to slowly fall for Henry, and vice versa, a disgruntled Kate reveals herself, and stakes a possessive claim on her former fiance. Gamesmanship ensues, as Ashley - the only one who can see and hear Kate - alternately fights for and considers ceding Henry to the spectre of his vengeful ex.

The directorial debut of Jeff Lowell, an episodic television writer who also penned 2006's John Tucker Must Die, Over Her Dead Body is a movie of phoney raucousness. Owing to the small screen roots of its creator, the tone veers wildly from scene to scene; comedy writ large and obvious (hapless Dan creating a mess in the kitchen in slapstick fashion, Kate making sounds of mock-flatulence that she believes Ashley will mistake for Henry) rules the day. Absent a laugh-track, though, the staleness of these gags reveals itself.

The staging is frequently awkward, from the opening scene of Chloe and Henry's introduction to Ashley (in which Dan implausibly remains in the kitchen, in order

to lamely conceal his identity for a joke later in the film) to a hallway-set scene involving the revelation of Kate's diary. Dialogue, too, is frequently stilted and wooden; many scenes seem comprised of placeholder jokes, given no sort of additional subtlety or shading.

Despite the film's billing, Bell is essentially the female lead. Yet the 'combative spat' portion of the conceit - potentially the richest comedic terrain - is hazily defined, and Longoria Parker's Kate isn't very well integrated into the movie as a whole. She comes

and goes, haphazardly. Additionally, there's no soft side to Kate to make us see she and Henry as a legitimate couple in the first place.

Points go to Lowell and the film's makers for rounding up capable comedic actors (Sloane, Stephen Root, et al) for some of the movie's bit supporting parts, but the

script consistently lets them down. It takes ill-conceived, cardboard-thin stereotypes and somehow makes them worse. Even a big story reversal at the end of the second act fails to give the film any punch. Because nothing about the characters or any of their relationships is in the least way believable, even in any world of heightened affect, the ludicrous twist falls painfully flat.

Longoria Parker trades on the broadly conveyed arch indignation that serves her well on the small screen, but otherwise brings nothing new to her character. Similarly, Rudd is left to define Henry solely through sardonic parrying.

That brings us to Bell, who has big parts - opposite Colin Farrell and Edward Norton in Pride and Glory, and Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher in What Happens in Vegas - looming on the horizon. Here she displays affability and an admirable willingness to indulge in pratfall hijinks, but there's absolutely no palpable romantic chemistry with Rudd, and her canted, slightly off-centre interpretation seems more ideally suited to secondary lead roles.

Production companies
New Line Cinema (US)
Gold Circle Films (US)
The Safran Company (US)
Domestic distribution
New Line Cinema

Executive producers
Scott Niemeyer
Norm Waitt

Paul Brooks
Peter Safran

Jeff Levine
Chrisann Verges

Jeff Lowell

Director of photography
John Bailey

Production designer
Cory Lorenzen

David Kitay

Matthew Friedman

Costume designer
Tracy Tynan

Main cast:
Eva Longoria Parker
Paul Rudd
Lake Bell
Jason Biggs
Lindsay Sloane
Stephen Root
Kali Rocha
W. Morgan Sheppard
Sam Pancake