Back in 1941, Noel Coward cooked up a clever play called Blithe Spirit in which the ghost of the main character’s deceased wife came back from the dead to disrupt his second marriage. It was typical Coward—witty, cynical, a little bitter—and it became a huge hit in both England and America. A very good film version was made in 1945 by director David Lean. The U.S. DVD release of that film is currently out of print, but there’s a chance some video stores might have it for rent. Go and seek it out rather than subject yourself to the mentally defective rip-off of the same basic premise, Over Her Dead Body. Hell, you’d be better off renting Neil Jordan’s mangled High Spirits (1988) or Norman McLeod’s Topper (1937) or Abbott and Costello in Hold That Ghost (1941) or maybe even Francis in the Haunted House (1956) if you just have to see something with ghostly doings. (The last depends on your tolerance for talking mules and Mickey Rooney. As such, it should not be undertaken lightly.)
Over Her Dead Body is marketed as a supernatural romantic comedy. The problem is that it’s neither very romantic nor very comedic—and things aren’t appreciably better on the supernatural front. The setup has Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria Parker (sporting one of those unhealthy-looking orange “tans”) as Kate, the obnoxious control-freak fiancée of Henry (Paul Rudd, Knocked Up). Kate is crushed to death by an ice sculpture of a wingless angel on her wedding day. Not only is this spectacularly unfunny and wrongheaded (three minutes of the Kate character and you’re ready to applaud the wingless angel and buy her a drink), but it is quite possibly the most amateurish bit of filmmaking ever to grace the screen. I’ve seen more accomplished filmmaking by 8-year-olds with camcorders. It gets worse.
The story jumps ahead a year only to find Henry still inexplicably mourning the death of a woman most of us would pay good money to see stand at the wrong end of a shooting gallery. So his naturally concerned sis, Chloe (Lindsay Sloane, Nancy Drew), drags him to see her friend Ashley (TV actress Lake Bell), a caterer who moonlights as a psychic (don’t they all?). The idea is to contact Kate’s spirit and get her to tell him to get on with his life. Of course, what happens is that Henry and Ashley soon fall in love (possibly because Ms. Bell shares the same alarming orange hue of Ms. Longoria Parker). Kate’s ghost witnesses this and decides that her unaccomplished mission in life (yes, this is one of those Lilliom-inspired affairs where the dead return to deal with unfinished business) is to save Henry from Kate. Complications, supposed mirth (including supernatural flatulence, of course) and the cheesiest special effects imaginable ensue.
Since there’s scarcely enough actual plot to attain feature length, the movie is padded out with a ridiculous subplot involving Ashley’s gay catering partner, Dan (Jason Biggs, who probably deserves his special billing in the credits, only because he’s the only movie name in the cast), and large doses of appallingly staged slapstick. Occasionally, the movie combines the slapstick and the subplot, thereby economically doubling the groan quotient.
Setting aside such mundane worries over why the ghostly Kate walks through walls, but neither falls through chairs nor through the floor, this is the kind of material that relies entirely on the charm of the actors, the wit of the dialogue and the stylishness of the direction. Well, since the movie scores zero in each of those departments, I’d suggest going to see Rambo instead. It’s funnier and probably more romantic. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.