7 June 2009 | liquidcelluloid-1
A poorly written, hastily cast cash grab from MGM that doesn't extend, close out or do any justice to the series
Network: Direct to DVD movie; Genre: Comedy/Drama; Content Rating: R (profanity, dark comic violence, sexual content); Available: DVD; Perspective: Contemporary (star range: 1 – 4);
For reference I'd recommend any reader of this briefly skip over to my review of the original Showtime series "Dead Like Me", where the show's freshness, originality, creativity and strong voice inspired me to a 5 out of 5 star rating. The direct-to-DVD feature "Dead Like Me: Life After Death" opens with a well-done, but redundant re-cap of the show's premise already captured so well in creator Bryan Fuller's movie-quality Pilot for those unfamiliar with the series. But then again, if you're unfamiliar with the show you wouldn't be interested in this movie.
Stunned at the unexpected loss of former team leader Rube (Mandy Patinkin contractually unable to be in the film), workman-like grim reapers Georgia Lass (Ellen Muth), Roxy (Jasmin Guy), Mason (Calum Blue) and Daisy Adair (Sarah Wynter replacing "24" sister Laura Harris who was hopefully off making the far better horror/comedy "Severance") are whisked off to a new life managed by unsavory new boss Cameron (Henry Ian Cusik, "Lost"). All seems great at first, limos take them to an upscale restaurant replacing Der Waffle house and Cameron quickly replaces their trademark post-it notes with blackberries, but Cameron plays fast and loose with the reaper code of conduct and the new "do-what-you-feel" attitude starts to have dire results. The first of which causes George to miss a reap which traps a teenage boy in a coma and brings George face to face with the boy's secret girlfriend: her sister, Reggie (Britt McKillip all grown up now).
Series episodes were structured like a wheel, centered around a theme with every character branching off as a sprocket to illustrate a different element of that theme (a la Sex and the City). "Life" is all over the place. One minute it's about George's reluctance to take reaping into the 21st century and her distrust of Cameron, then it launches off into a story that is essentially a rehash of the season one episode "Reapercussions" (which in 45 minutes covered this ground with more imagination). It throws in a random subplot involving Delores (Christine Welles, not her usual shiny self) giving her cat Murray a swan song only because the two are fan favorites.
"Life after Death" is a shallow, cynical cash grab from MGM with a hastily assembled cast and a script, by showrunner John Masius and co-writer Stephen Godchiux, that could have used several trips back to the writer's room. "Dead" heads will be disappointed all around by this venture. For starters all of the characters have been hollowed out and turned into one-note bits dispensing cringe-inducing one-liners, particularly Mason who is now just a goof. Georgia is no longer the antisocial, sardonic voice of a generation, but a protagonist, functioning in society, doing what's right as any protagonist does.
Surprisingly enough, much of "Life" belongs to McKillip. Suddenly thrust into the lead, the young actress does a fine job with it, it's that – even in the series – the entire Joy/Reggie storyline was an unnecessary, and poorly conceived trapdoor escape from the fantasy of the grim reaping story that seemed to move the show backwards. In the series it gave the show one tiny toe grounded in domestic drama, by expanding it in the movie, it very often swallows the production entirely in melodrama. I can see teenage girls crying and screaming at each other anywhere, but I can't see a bizarre Rube Goldberg series of events set in motion by a Graveling that leads to someone's death anywhere but "Dead Like Me".
Speaking of the Gravelings, a certain surprise revelation regarding George and the Gravelings at the end of the 2nd season is disappointingly not addressed at all in "Life". From Mandy Patinkin's rock solid performance to Stewart Copeland's whimsical music to Laura Harris portraying a ditz like Daisy Adair with a perfect (and rare) steely-eyed determination that everything she says is right – there are more things that I can count, big and small, from the show that are missing from this production.
Maybe the most dispiriting thing about "Life" is how unnecessary it feels. Given the chance to bring a loved TV series back from the dead for a last hurrah is a golden opportunity and should inspire the showrunners to swing for the fences. "Life" looks like a tired afterthought that forgot what it used to do so well in the first place. It makes no effort to close the series out with a bang or to extend the stories into exciting new territories. Although, it is kind of fun to see the show's informal theme song, "Boom Boom Ba", making another appearance. "Dead Like Me" fans deserve a whole lot better than "Life After Death".
* ½ / 4