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‘Heart and Souls’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 13, 1993

 


Director:
Ron Underwood
Cast:
Robert Downey Jr.;
Charles Grodin;
Alfre Woodard;
Kyra Sedgwick;
Elisabeth Shue;
Tom Sizemore;
David Paymer
PG-13
profanity e No comfort for boomers now glimpsing mortality, no solace for mourners left behind by violence and AIDS "He


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"Heart and Souls" is a Casperesque take on the afterlife, a doting little comedy simply crammed with cuddlesome spirits and touchy-feely insights. Four ghosts, which is about three too many, watch over a newborn, who to their chagrin becomes a money-grubbing careerist with a car phone more or less permanently fixed to his ear. What to do? What to do?

Robert Downey Jr. portrays this contemporary Cosmo Topper, a thirtyish fellow whose trouble with personal relationships can be traced back to early childhood when his spectral companions -- Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard, Kyra Sedgwick and Tom Sizemore -- suddenly abandoned him. Indeed, much of the film leads up to this emotional moment -- wrenchingly acted by cherubic child actor Eric Lloyd as Thomas, the future yuppie.

Literally and figuratively attached to Thomas, the ghosts never really go away. They just became invisible to the boy when the school psychiatrist discovers him talking to "his secret friends." They've watched him screw up relationships -- and heaven only knows what else -- wondering all the while why they had been stuck to him since that fatal foggy night in San Francisco. That was 1959 already.

Dense for ectoplasmic types, they haven't figured out that each has some unfinished business to transact before boarding that astral plane to a better place. Actually, it isn't a plane. It's another bus, piloted by the very driver (David Paymer) who got them into this mess. "Let's go, dead people," says this cheery Charon, three decades behind schedule when he finally materializes.

Of course, they aren't about to set foot inside the bus till he explains a few things. What, nobody told them that Thomas was their "corporeal being"? They didn't know that they might use his body to wind up their affairs? Finally, somebody gets to the point of the story, which is nearly as late in coming as God's Greyhound.

Downey meanwhile hasn't had time to make much of an impression as the generically callow Thomas, who can't commit to his current squeeze (Elisabeth Shue) because the last time he trusted his heart, it was only a hallucination. Or so his therapists have convinced him during the past 27 years. Naturally, he is also reluctant to believe when the quartet returns and each asks to borrow his body.

Hereafter, the movie becomes a showcase for Downey, who's had experience with this sort of thing in "Chances Are." An able mimic, he undergoes various cultural and sexual changes as he successively hosts the essences of a horny cat burglar (Sizemore), a devoted single mother (Woodard), a stage-frightened tenor (Grodin) and a lovelorn cocktail waitress (Sedgwick). The possessions inevitably become repetitious and Downey becomes increasingly desperate.

His impressions of Grodin and Sizemore are apt, but when it comes to doing the ladies, he'd have been better off it he'd donned a coconut bra and sung "There Is Nothing Like a Dame." With the demure Sedgwick's soul in his heart, he becomes a butt-twitching sex maniac. Woodard, elegant and motherly here, takes up residence next, but Downey, squalling and jivey, seems to have mistaken her for Whoopi Goldberg.

Goldberg made a more entertaining medium in "Ghost," as did all-time channeling champ Steve Martin, who was possessed in "All of Me" by Lily Tomlin. Neither is an especially great movie, but each has a loving spirit and clarity of purpose that "Heart and Souls" lacks. Drawn from a 10-minute student film called "Seven Souls," the 104-minute tale has doubtless grown taller like the protagonist, but certainly no deeper.

Director Ron Underwood, who came up with a happy marriage of schmaltz and shtick in "City Slickers," can't quite disguise the mechanical superficiality of the story. Stars twinkle, the fog slips in and bright tears roll, but there's no magic hereither.Heart and Souls, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 for profanity. e. No comfort for boomers now glimpsing mortality, no solace

f

or mourners left behind by violence and AIDS. "He

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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