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  Heaven Can Wait Life In Limbo
Year: 1978
Director: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry
Stars: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, James Mason, Jack Warden, Charles Grodin, Dyan Cannon, Buck Henry, Vincent Gardenia, Joseph Maher, Hamilton Camp, Arthur Malet, Stephanie Faracy, Jeannie Linero, Joseph Campanella, Dolph Sweet, R.G. Armstrong, John Randolph
Genre: Comedy, Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is a successful quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, and though he is reaching the end of his career, it looks as if he will be going out on a high this season. He is looking forward to his next game, but sadly fate intervenes and he never plays it, for when he is out cycling as part of his dedicated training regime he happens to go through a tunnel and straight into a truck. The next thing he knows, he's dreaming about being in the "way station" for the afterlife - except this isn't a dream...

This Heaven Can Wait was not a remake of the Heaven Can Wait from the forties, as slightly confusingly it was a remake of Here Comes Mister Jordan, one of the many movies which ruminated on the state of what happens after death, understandably in light of the massive amount of carnage the World War of that decade had wrought. Evidently that title was considered too good to spend on a Don Ameche comedy, and was transplanted to this Beatty effort, which he co-directed with Buck Henry, but the fact remained the Ameche film was a more satisfying watch than this would ever be.

In spite of its blandness, it was goodnatured enough to turn into a huge hit at the time, and you may well wonder why this was nominated for a brace of Oscars, including Best Film and Best Actor for its director-star. Affable to a fault, for a comedy there was very little to laugh at other than some creakily obvious gags, the best of which relied on the farce of the situation, but you could not truly take against it when it had that puppy dog need to entertain you. Surprisingly, one of the writers was Elaine May, who had teamed up with one of the supporting cast Charles Grodin for The Heartbreak Kid a few short years before.

But if you were expecting this to be anything like as sharp as that, you were likely to be let down badly, as much of this would pass muster as a watchable but forgettable sitcom of the day, except this had big stars in it. The plot they were acting out was something in the fantasy genre which influenced similar movies for quite a while to come, some as big a success as this, but most taking a mild view of either the other side or some other construction which would see the star in another body or trading quips with some heavenly agent. In this case, when Joe finds out he is dead, he protests, and it transpires he was called early by mistake.

So what to do? The head of this division, Mr Jordan (James Mason) does his best to find a new body for Joe to inhabit, but he has his heart set on playing at the Superbowl and wants the form of an athlete, or at least someone he can build up to be one. Here is where the film begins to resemble an elaborate wish-fulfilment endeavour for Beatty; he may have originally planned to make this a Muhammad Ali vehicle, but when he turned it down the role was evidently tailored for Beatty so that Joe would not only become a benevolent millionaire, but also buy his own football team, romance Julie Christie, and cheat death. Offer this a wittier, more sardonic script that you might have expected from this era, and you would have had something more enduring, as it is now Heaven Can Wait was a piece of fluff that by some chance got lucky with audiences wanting a family comedy. Easy to watch, yes, but mediocre. Music by Dave Grusin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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