September 26, 2005 12:00 PM

Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Dina Waters, Ben Shenkman, Jon Heder

ROMANTIC COMEDY

Some movies slide by on the charm of their stars and the goodwill one feels toward the characters they play. Case in point: Just Like Heaven, an uneven romantic comedy, will amuse you if you’re in a mood to be amused.

Based on a bestselling novel by Marc Levy called If Only It Were True, the movie begins by introducing Elizabeth Masterson (Witherspoon), a doctor who routinely puts in 26-hour shifts at a San Francisco hospital, leaving zero time for a social life. One night while driving over to her sister’s house for a rare sororal dinner, Elizabeth has a car crash. Enter David Abbott (Ruffalo), a sad-eyed man looking for a furnished apartment. He finds one he loves, but shortly after he moves in, a ghostly yet still exceedingly bossy Elizabeth begins popping up. She insists that it’s her place. “It’s like a pig moved into my house,” she complains, gazing at David’s mountains of dirty dishes, crusty food cartons and beer cans.

Most viewers will be several steps ahead of these two in figuring out how Elizabeth and David became unwilling flatmates and where their relationship is headed. Director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) wisely keeps an ethereal Heaven moving at a brisk pace while getting appealing performances from a solid cast. Witherspoon and Ruffalo are a comfortable fit, her vinegary feistiness balanced by his innate sweetness. In a supporting role, Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder, looking way less nerdish, earns big laughs as a slacker occultist. If this guy can see into the beyond, it can’t be that far away (PG-13)

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