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Review: A blissful 'Just Like Heaven'

Witherspoon, Ruffalo make comedy a gem

By Paul Clinton
For CNN.com

Heaven
Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon in "Just Like Heaven."

FACT BOX

'Just Like Heaven'

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Heder, Donal Logue, Dina Waters

Directed by: Mark Waters

Screenplay by: Peter Tolan, Leslie Dixon

Studio: Dreamworks

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Review
Reese Witherspoon

(CNN) -- "Just Like Heaven" could draw comparisons to the wildly successful 1990 film "Ghost." But unlike that sometimes overwrought life-and-death flick, "Heaven" leans more -- much more -- towards laughter.

"Heaven" does have its sentimental moments, but it could be best described as sharing the same comedic spirit as "Topper," a 1937 screwball comedy starring Cary Grant.

Mark Ruffalo plays David, a recent widower who has sublet a San Francisco apartment and retreated there to nurse his damaged soul. Reese Witherspoon portrays Elizabeth, an overachieving, workaholic doctor who, immediately after obtaining a longed-for promotion, is hit by a truck while on her way to a dinner party at her sister Abby's home.

Shortly after David moves in -- and much to his surprise and growing annoyance -- Elizabeth starts popping up in his new home. The apartment, of course, just happens to have been Elizabeth's before her accident.

At first David assumes he's lost his mind, but slowly comes to the realization that Elizabeth is a spirit who needs help in crossing over to the other side. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is equally convinced that she's still alive and has no intentions of going anywhere.

As in any number of other films with similar plots, only David can see and communicate with Elizabeth's spirit; her physical form is in a coma at a local hospital.

As the strong-willed Elizabeth gradually accepts her surreal situation, "Just Like Heaven" makes the most of its comic promise, thanks to a terrific script by Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon (adapted from a French novel, "If It Were Only True," by Marc Levy) -- and the performances of its two leads.

Humor and timing

Witherspoon carries the story in the beginning. She's not only beautiful and sexy, but also possesses an innate intelligence -- which makes her completely believable as a doctor. That's not always the case in Hollywood.

Ruffalo, a talented actor best known for more serious roles ("You Can Count on Me," "In the Cut"), has a wonderful gift for deadpan timing and is also highly adept at physical comedy. His character is also more rounded than the men who usually play second fiddle to the female lead in this type of romantic comedy.

Heaven
"Napoleon Dynamite's" Jon Heder plays a bookstore employee who helps Ruffalo's character.

Both David and Elizabeth are lost souls unable to go forward in their respective lives: He can't let go of the past and she can't find her future. When they find common ground, they have to race the clock to secure the only chance Elizabeth has for returning to her former life.

Director Mark Waters ("Mean Girls," "Freaky Friday") keeps the proceedings rolling at a breezy clip.

"Just Like Heaven" is light, pleasing and well worth seeing. Sure, the story has its sappy moments, but the two leads and a fine cast of supporting players will make you overlook any faults it may contain. For the most part, it lives up to its title.

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