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Originally published February 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 5, 2008 at 12:36 PM

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Movie review

A desperate ghost in an unfunny purgatory

Ever since "Ghost" became an unexpected phenomenon 18 years ago, beyond-the-grave romantic comedies have tried to match its box-office success. And now Paul Rudd is haunted by Eva Longoria Parker in the unfortunately wit-deprived "Over Her Dead Body."

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 1.5 stars

"Over Her Dead Body," with Paul Rudd, Lake Bell, Eva Longoria Parker, Jason Biggs. Written and directed by Jeff Lowell. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language, flatulence jokes, sexual references. Several theaters.

Ever since "Ghost" became an unexpected phenomenon 18 years ago, beyond-the-grave romantic comedies have tried to match its box-office success. Reese Witherspoon played a ghost who fell for Mark Ruffalo in "Just Like Heaven"; Gerard Butler was Hilary Swank's deceased but never forgotten husband in "P.S. I Love You"; and now Paul Rudd is haunted by Eva Longoria Parker in the unfortunately wit-deprived "Over Her Dead Body."

Parker plays Kate, a grating perfectionist who dies on her wedding day when she complains about a sculpted angel. She orders it back to the shop, it falls on her and she ends up seeing real angels — or at least someone who looks like an angel in a whited-out purgatory.

Kate is so pushy that she won't listen to instructions about what she's supposed to accomplish in the afterlife. Since she can't have Henry, her almost-husband and a pleasant veterinarian (played by Rudd), she wants to make sure he's not dating someone else. When he starts to fall for a romantic medium, Ashley (Lake Bell from "Boston Legal"), Kate starts levitating, casting spells and making life a supernatural hell for everyone.

Writer-director Jeff Lowell, a television veteran ("Spin City"), trots out the expected gags that depend on who can see ghosts, who can't and why. In this movie, dogs and parrots can sense their presence, and so can Ashley, who only seems to be addressing thin air — and/or an invisible cellphone.

Henry is clueless, and so are the many strangers who pass by when Ashley is apparently experiencing hallucinations. While Lowell tries to copy the comic tradition established by "Topper," "Blithe Spirit" and their many imitators, he's not terribly consistent about what Kate's ghost can express and how she can express it.

Evidently aware that the plot needs a bit of filler to keep it from becoming entirely predictable, he throws in several episodes in which irrelevant pratfalls are staged just behind the main action. Ashley's gay pal (Jason Biggs) inadvertently sets fire to himself, and the vet's office and a restaurant are filled with similar background distractions. At a particularly desperate point, Rudd seems to be competing with the length, volume and variety of Adam Sandler's flatulence routines.

The plot offers few surprises, aside from a last-minute confession by Biggs. Parker does little with a one-dimensional role (we spend much of the movie wishing another angel would flatten her), while Rudd and Bell gamely attempt to supply romantic chemistry that isn't present in the script.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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