'Heaven' a Charming Romance; Supernatural Love, Comedy Provide Watchable Diversion

Article excerpt

Byline: Scott Galupo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

If metro critics thought "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" was catnip to benighted red-state Christians, wait till they get a load of "Just Like Heaven."

A hokey romantic fantasy starring Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon, "Heaven" presupposes an afterlife, suggests affairs of the heart are intelligently designed and climaxes in a Terri Schiavo-like euthanasia dilemma.

Truthfully, "Heaven" is not seriously orthodox in any sense; it's devoted more to the theology of "Ghost" than any traditional religion. Still, it unabashedly partakes of the experience of the numinous, as C.S. Lewis would say.

And it happens to be a pretty charming movie.

When we first meet Elizabeth Masterson (Miss Witherspoon), she's an overachieving doctor at the end of a marathon 26-hour shift in a well-to-do San Francisco hospital. With no time for dating, her life is all syringes, charts, X-rays and the occasional marriage proposal from morphine-addled men. Upon learning that she'll be promoted to attending physician - yippee - Elizabeth leaves for the night, hops in her car, cranks up the Cars' "Good Times Roll" and heads over to her sister's house for supper and a potential love match. And then: Hello, Mack truck.

Cut to Mr. Ruffalo, depressive but still fundamentally amiable, as David Abbott, a landscape architect seeking to pick up the pieces of his life (the details of the demise of his marriage aren't immediately revealed). After a mildly amusing montage of pricey San Francisco real-estate , David chooses to start over in the former apartment of - wouldn't you know it - the ill-fated Elizabeth.

Thus the conceit of the movie. Elizabeth's ghost still haunts the place. More accurately, she haunts David, for reasons that gradually become clear to the couple (and instantly obvious to us): It's the mother of all cosmic love connections.

At first, David can summon Elizabeth only through bad manners; she inconveniently pops up when he forgets to use coasters, or when he'd like nothing more than to go on an all-day Heineken bender. …