Control Nathan and Clint: Over Her Dead Body (2011)
Being an agent isn’t always about trying to secure the best, highest paying roles for your clients. Just as often it’s about steering your clients away from the worst but also highest paying gigs. For example, if you're lucky enough to represent the likes of Paul Rudd and Lake Bell part of your job is ensuring that they never lend their enormous talents to ghost fart movies.
That shouldn’t be difficult. Why would anybody want to star in a movie that prominently involves ghost farts, let alone actors as ridiculously good-looking and charming as this divine duo? Yet something must have gone a little haywire somewhere because Rudd and Bell ended up playing second fiddle to Eva Longoria as a g-g-g-ghost who antagonizes Bell, Beetlejuice-meets-Johnny Knoxville-style by conjuring up the sound and fury of a roaring parade of afterlife flatulence to annoy her romantic rival out of being amorous with her almost-husband in the 2011 Eva Longoria ghost comedy Over Her Dead Body.
The scene lingers on and on, almost to the point of embodying The Simpsons-derived Rake Effect, where a joke is extended first to a length that feels sadistic, and then, through sheer repetition, comes around again to being funny, minus the whole, you know, being funny part. It’s the only sequence from the movie I will remember because the sound man was clearly taking the sonic equivalent of an endless, flashy, virtuoso, Trey Anastasio-style solo. THIS is a craftsman at work.
It’s as if this virtuoso is using every sound on his soundboard for flatulence, from the smallest whisper of a fart to the loudest, most aggressive unashamed blast and poor Bell and Rudd are left to use their art and truth to breathe life into a tableau involving a ghost either ripping an enormous fart, or pretending to rip an enormous fart, to kill Bell’s libido before she can take Rudd to the bone zone.
Rudd I can at least see starring in a movie like this as a perverse ironic gesture, like “Sure”, “I’d ‘love’ to star in this ghost fart movie. It looks ‘great.’ When do we start shooting?” and the next thing he knows he’s looking at a big-ass check for actually starring in the movie, and then he looks at the call sheet and it’s him and Lake Bell and he turns to the camera and squawks, “It’s a living!” Flintstones abused-worker-bird-dinosaur style. At least that’s how I’d like to believe Paul Rudd’s career works.
Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself and we have a whole lot of bullshit to work through with this one. Its supremely tacky high concept reminded me of the campily appealing plastic schlock cranked out by Touchstone pictures in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s easy to imagine, for example, Steve Guttenberg in the Paul Rudd role of Henry, the non-threateningly handsome heartbroken veterinarian whose lust for life is renewed when he falls in love with a quirky psychic, Darryl Hannah or Lori Singer in the Lake Bell role as the willowy beauty who falls in love with the boyfriend/almost husband of the ghost that’s haunting her, Shelley Long in the Longoria-Parker role and Jon Cryer instead of Jason Biggs as the fake gay best friend who feigns homosexuality for five years as a way of getting closer to the woman of his dreams in way I can only describe as an ill-thought out scheme.
Pitched perpetually on the brink of full-on self-parody, Over Her Dead Body stars Eva Longoria-Parker as Kate Spencer, an uptight, type-A monster who is killed by an ice sculpture of a wingless angel created by a drunken, dissolute Stephen Root and instead of going to heaven or hell ends up on earth intent on keeping her depressed boyfriend from finding happiness and fulfillment with the perfect new woman.
When I first saw that Rudd and Longoria-Parker were starring in a movie together as a couple, I remember thinking very vividly, “Huh, that doesn’t seem right.” Having seen the movie twice now I can vouch that it's more than just not right: it's egregiously, distractingly wrong.
It’s a testament to how badly Longoria-Parker is miscast that it’s easier to buy her as a ghost who does sexy/scatological pranks than it is as a woman in a happy, committed romantic relationship with Paul Rudd. I kept waiting for this to be acknowledged at some point, for someone to say, “Hey, you guys seem like a really surprising couple, in that you have nothing in common and no chemistry. What’s the deal? How did you guys hook up and how do you manage to overlook the fact that Jane has no redeeming qualities, while Henry is a handsome, charming, successful professional who heals puppies for a living?”
You’d think a character played by a world-class beauty like Longoria-Parker would at the very least have looks on her side, and while she’s not exactly Charlize Theron in Monster, she has the big hair, Barbie-like wardrobe and energetically annoying look and personality of a wealthy, overly chatty 1980s Dallas housewife here instead of the sex and glamour the sex symbol usually exudes.
The filmmakers apparently hoped the first-billed Desperate Housewives star would blossom into a modern-day Carol Lombard as soon as the cameras started rolling. Instead her dearth of physical comedy chops makes embarrassing material even worse. Part of that is by design. She’s supposed to be a human irritant, a Lifetime version of Beetlejuice who is less viscerally disgusting than kind of basic.
Obnoxious yet entertaining and endearing is a tricky combination to pull off. Bill Murray mastered it in What About Bob? but while Longoria is appropriately annoying she’s never entertaining or endearing. She’s the Ghost with the Least, a crummy apparition, a sub-spar specter.
Yet despite her all-around crappiness, her death via wacky misadventure (all that’s missing is a scratched record sound effect) nevertheless leaves Henry so despondent and devoid of hope that his meddling sister Chloe (Lindsay Sloane) decides to sadistically manipulate her brother’s fragile emotions by tricking him into thinking that Kate is trying to reach him from the other side through psychic Ashley (Bell) to let him know that she’s okay and that he should move on with his life.
To facilitate this psychotic fraud she gives Ashley Kate’s diary so that she can convince the skeptical animal doctor with information that seemingly only his dead soulmate and him would know.
This is wrong on so many different levels. It’s dishonest. It’s manipulative. It’s a horrific and unforgivable violation of a dead woman’s privacy and a violation of her fundamental dignity as well. Yet the movie is obligated to treat it as a little sketchy, yes, but also coming from a good, moral place and eventually leading to a positive outcome.
Ashley at first demurs on the basis that she’s not some sham psychic out to defraud strangers and toy with their emotions but eventually relents because there’d be no movie if she did not. These two kooky kids fall in love until they run into a supernatural roadblock in the form of Kate’s ghost, who returns to the land of the living hell bent on keeping the love of her life from being happy by alternately annoying and humiliating Ashley via ghostly shenanigans until she’s ready to give up and leave the handsome veterinarian alone.
Ashley, meanwhile, has insulting romantic comedy bullshit of her own to deal with when she turns to gay best friend and confidante Dan (Jason Biggs) for comfort and solace and learns that he is not gay at all, but has merely been pretending to be a homosexual for the last five years in hope of getting close enough to her to presumably finally make his move five, ten or fifteen years down the road.
This third act revelation feels perversely shoe-horned into a movie that’s already about a hundred times more convoluted and idiotic than any motion picture, even an Eva Longoria ghost fart comedy, has any right to be. It deserves to be a shitty, unwatchable romantic comedy all its own, not a late-in-the-game subplot for a movie that already boasts an almost impressive level of irrelevant nonsense, like ghosts in its world being able to communicate with, and be seen by, animals.
This quirk figures prominently in the movie’s appropriately idiotic climax, where Kate, with the help of Stephen Root’s ghost, realizes that she’s actually supposed to help Henry be happy, rather than miserable, so she finds a way to control Henry’s parrot so that she can communicate with him through the chatty, verbose bird.
Sqwawk. It’s a Living!
Third act parrot possession/ventriloquism! Strategic fake homosexuality! Sexy ghost pranks! Paranormal fartz! The least convincing romantic couple this side of John Travolta and Lily Tomlin in Moment by Moment! You can say many, many things about Over Her Dead Body, many of them overwhelmingly negative, but you certainly cannot accuse it of not living up to its bottomless potential for 1980s-style cheesiness and romantic comedy insanity. It has the courage of its cornball convictions. It embodies, in an unusually pure form, the perverse and pervasive tendency, in romantic comedies to depict deeply unhinged and wildly unethical behavior, like using a dead woman’s purloined words to trick an emotionally fragile man into thinking he’s got a big green light on moving on from the afterworld, or pretending to have a different sexual orientation for a solid half decade as part of a perversely patient, long-term strategy for winning the woman of your dreams through epic dishonesty, as merely quirky and possibly a little off.
Yet despite, and also because, of the film’s many layers of contrivance, artifice and shtick, I half-enjoyed Over Her Dead Body both times I’ve watched it. Yes, I’ve watched this before. I was tempted both by genuine enthusiasm over the pairing of Rudd and Bell and morbid fascination as to just how ridiculous and cheesy an Eva Longoria ghost movie could be.
Bell and Rudd are their usual charming, irresistible selves here. One of their defining characteristics as actors and celebrities is their intelligence. They’re both bracingly smart, cerebral, ironic actors so it’s fascinating watching them wrestle with material so profoundly idiotic and absurd that it reeks of kitschy self-parody.
Over Her Dead Body is essentially an unironic version of They Came Together, Rudd and David Wain’s sublime deconstruction of the groaning machinery and artifice of the romantic comedy, one that doesn’t just play all the dopey cliches straight but amps up the ridiculousness with, for example, a set-piece rooted in ghostly mega-flatulence and a talking bird acting as the earthly vessel for an asshole ghost you can’t help but hate.
Rudd and Bell have both proven more than capable of writing strong material for themselves. Rudd’s writing credits are impeccable: he co-wrote Role Models and both Ant-Man movies and co-created the beloved cult show Party Down while Bell wrote, directed and starred in the terrific show business romantic comedy In a World, a decidedly different, more subtle and less oppressively idiotic take on the venerable genre.
Yes, Rudd and Bell have both managed to steer of ghost fart comedies since Over Her Dead Body’s release. Even Longoria-Parker has managed to steer clear of this particular kind of movie. They’ve all clearly learned through experience that no matter how hilarious a set piece rooted in possible mega-farts from the recently deceased might read on paper, it’s going to be embarrassing onscreen in a way that lodges itself permanently in your brain, and not in a good way.
Thanks to this alternately enjoyably and maddeningly stupid gimmick of a comedy I will always associate Paul Rudd and Lake Bell with excellent movies and memorable performances but also with deafeningly loud ghost farts, and nobody deserves that, not even Eva Longoria-Parker.
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