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‘Made in Heaven’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 20, 1987

If Heaven could be visualized, according to Alan Rudolph's "Made in Heaven," it would be a Hollywood movie. When Timothy Hutton and Kelly McGillis fall in love on Cloud Nine, they kiss in sunlit surroundings, they fade to the next scene. They walk through movie sets. They talk over lush music and through soft focus.

In Rudolph's tribute to the Hollywood Hereafter films of the '40s, Hutton and McGillis play two souls who lose each other in Heaven but get a second chance on earth -- where they have new identities, and no memories of heaven.

Hutton starts off as Mike Shea, a nice guy who drowns while saving a mother and her children. After dying and then going head-over-heels in heaven, he returns to Earth as Elmo Barnett, purple heart veteran and, later, a drifter. McGillis is, at first, Annie Packert -- a soul born in Heaven. Visiting Earth for the first time, she's Ally Chandler, writer, artist and deserted wife of an egotistic filmmaker.

Rudolph, who made "Welcome to L.A.," "Choose Me" and "Trouble in Mind," fills the film with a number of special inner worlds of eccentrics and weirdos. Besides homage to Hollywood (including "The Wizard of Oz"), he offers more quirky beings: A chainsmoking fella called Emmett (a disguised Debra Winger as a sort of punk Good Witch of the North) who runs things up in Heaven; Lisa (Maureen Stapleton), once a talentless earthling who now paints away in an artist's hangout straight out of "An American in Paris"; and an earthbound collection of celebs who make amusing cameo appearances in the lovers' lives -- including Tom Petty, Ric Ocasek, Neil Young, Tom Robbins and Gary Larson.

There is little doubt that Elmo and Ally (or Mike and Annie) will meet, which is the main problem for the earthbound portion of "Heaven." Emmett grants Mike/Elmo until his 30th birthday to find her, which means we have to sit through a 30-year highlight sequence of the couple's lives.

Their lives are limned in a Spielberg-type shorthand. Ally's father dies; she goes through a painful divorce; Elmo meets his old parents (from when he was Mike); he learns music and cuts a record, and so on. The vignettes are pleasurable -- and unsurprising. When that special moment comes, it's a relief.

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