Shelley Long's decision to leave CHEERS at the height of its popularity to pursue a film career ranks as one of the biggest career gaffs in recent history, a move so misguided that even David Caruso makes fun of her for it. And although Long's post-CHEERS resume is peppered with clunkers, it's a sure bet that this 1987 alleged romantic comedy clunks more than the others.
On the surface it would seem the movie'd have a shot at least at mediocrity, given a screenplay by COMPROMISING POSITIONS author Susan Isaacs and a cast that not only includes Long (who, in the rare chances this film gives her, retains some of the effervescence that made her a TV star), Gabriel Byrne, Sela Ward, and Corbin Bernsen, all of whom are capable of carrying scripts beneath their talents. (Most surprising to me was the DAY OF THE DEAD's executive producer Salah M. Hassanein filling the same role here; even CREEPSHOW's Carrie Nye has a brief turn as a gossipy socialite). But the movie lies inert throughout its entire running time, so much that it'd be more interesting to watch outtakes of these actors interacting between takes.
The basic premise--Long, the accident-prone wife of ambitious plastic surgeon Bernsen, chokes to death and returns one year later to find her family, save for the her wacky New Age sister who brought her back, has moved on--is problematic but serviceable. Working against the film is Long's character, a klutzy housewife with such low self-esteem she belongs on Dr. Phil's show rather than the arm of a seven-figure spouse. It's hard to wring laughs out of a scene in which such a person, or anyone for that matter, chokes to death on a chicken ball, but with the right comedic touch it could at least play on a broad, slapstick level. Director Frank Perry doesn't even try, who style is merely slapping together a series of scenes that, in correct chronological order, presents a semi-coherent idea. Once Long comes back from the dead, she finds that not only is her son a happy businessman and husband, but that her gold-digging friend Ward has moved in on Bernsen. This brings up the movie's second biggest flaw--we're supposed to feel sorry for Long's family, even though they're clearly happier now that she's gone, and it's supposed to be a tragedy that Bernsen's no longer in love with her; but hey, he's a career-minded douchebag that married his wife's best friend before she was cold in the ground! Long's just as better off without him as he is her! Yet we're supposed to give a shit!
Wait, I'm forgetting the kicker: unless Long finds true love before the next full moon, she'll become dead again. And despite clear indications that this is a good thing, the script force-feeds us a clumsy, labored "romance" with hunky doctor Byrne that never for a split-second generates anything resembling chemistry.
What purpose does this movie have to exist? The story itself has no conflict, no specific problem that needs resolved, and its execution creates drama that isn't there rather than letting it evolve naturally. Comedy comes in the form of Long's repeated pratfalls, which wear out their welcome somewhere around the ten-minute mark and show no signs of disappearing, even though they're increasingly annoying. Even the climax (I'm being charitable here, though with such a shallow excuse for a plot it's hard for the end to be anything but climactic) is as improbable as it is cutsey-poo, a suitably pat denouement for such a non-story.
You know what would make for better viewing? ANYTHING.
Don't believe me? See for yourself: