(CNN) -- Eva Longoria Parker gets top billing in Jeff Lowell's mediocre supernatural romantic comedy, "Over Her Dead Body," and then the movie bumps her off in the first five minutes.
Eva Longoria Parker, left, and Lake Bell argue in the supernatural romantic comedy "Over Her Dead Body."
It's an especially cruel exit as Longoria Parker -- Kate in the film -- was on the point of marrying her intended -- Paul Rudd's Henry -- only to be crushed by a toppling ice sculpture.
"Desperate Housewives" fans need not worry. Longoria Parker isn't gone for long, though they may be surprised at how fleeting her subsequent appearances are.
A heavenly emissary sends Kate back to Earth to sort out some unfinished business, though Kate is such a controlling type (the movie's original title was "Ghost Bitch"), she hardly lets the angel get a word in edgewise and misconstrues the object of her mission.
Instead of helping Henry get over his loss, she decides to "protect" him. In particular, she does everything in her power to see that he doesn't fall for Ashley (Lake Bell), an amateur psychic who foolishly fakes a reading to cheer him up.
You don't need second sight to see where this is going. Henry and Ashley hit it off, but Ashley finds herself haunted by a diminutive spitfire in a wedding dress.
There's a long and fairly prestigious tradition of ghostly romantic comedies, including "Blithe Spirit," "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," "I Married a Witch" and "Here Comes Mr. Jordan." For obvious reasons, this little subgenre flourished during World War II (all these titles date between 1941 and 1945) though it's enjoyed a long and healthy afterlife (the "Jordan" remake "Heaven Can Wait," "Ghost," "Always").
Unfortunately, Lowell is no Noel Coward. His only previous feature credit was the screenplay for the teen comedy "John Tucker Must Die." That should tell you something.
Lowell is particularly wanting when it comes to displaying a sense of mischief. To mess with her rival, Kate keeps her awake by telling her about all the pets she had in her life. Then she moves on to her favorite colors and numbers. Sure, it's supposed to be banal. But isn't it also meant to be funny? Later, she's reduced to faking fart noises and humming in a bid to disrupt the couple's lovemaking.
If Lowell does have a halfway promising comic notion -- Henry's parrot can hear Kate, even though Henry can't -- he is so ham-fisted with the camera he consistently undersells the joke, and anyway he doesn't know where to take it.
Playing the romantic lead for once, Paul Rudd mostly coasts through this one (admittedly Henry doesn't have a clue what's going on most of the time). Jason Biggs does the perfunctory gay sidekick bit, and with Longoria Parker's spiteful sprite off-screen for long stretches that puts an undue onus on Bell, a young actress best known for a recurring role in TV's "Boston Legal."
A screwy redhead in the Lucille Ball mold, Bell seems game for physical comedy. Too bad. She certainly deserves a better showcase than this charmless hodgepodge of half-baked ideas.
"Over Her Dead Body" is rated PG-13 and runs 95 minutes. E-mail to a friend
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