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Dead Like Me: Life After Death (DVD Review)

7 Feb, 2009 By: John Latchem

Street 2/17/09
Fantasy Comedy
$26.98 DVD
Rated ‘R’ for language, some sexual content and violence.
Stars Ellen Muth, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy, Sarah Wynter, Henry Ian Cusick, Britt McKillip, Cynthia Stevenson.

It’s somewhat ironic that one of the themes of Dead Like Me: Life After Death is learning how to let go in the wake of great loss. For in bringing back “Dead Like Me,” the movie may stir mixed emotions from fans who had accepted the show was gone.

Those who enjoyed the show’s all-too-short 29-episode run on Showtime from 2003 to 2004 will likely flock to Life After Death. And they will probably be disappointed.

Though the movie will be a hard sell to non-fans, it begins with a lengthy prologue that tries to orient viewers to the mythology of the show. But really there’s no easy way to explain “Dead Like Me,” a show so tied up by its own mythology that the only proper exposition is the show itself.

It was a show about grim reapers, living among us and collecting our souls when our time had come. But it was also about how fleeting an experience life is, and what that meant to young reaper George Lass (Ellen Muth), who had no idea about how to live until she died. It was quirky and cynical and filled with attitude — a dark comedy that appealed to some sort of base schadenfreude not always found in ordinary people.

Life After Death returns the core group of Muth, Callum Blue (as Mason) and Jasmine Guy (Roxy) from the series. Sorely missing is Mandy Patinkin as head reaper Rube, swapped out for newer model Cameron Kane, played by Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond on “Lost”) as a go-getter with little regard for the rules of the afterlife.

On the flip side, the character of Daisy (played by Laura Harris on the show) is now played by a woefully miscast Sarah Wynter (who once played Harris’ sister on “24”). She doesn’t seem to be embodying the character so much as imitating her.

None of this would really be a problem had the movie successfully replicated the tone of the series. However, after some welcome snarkiness from the main characters to re-introduce us to what we loved about the show, the film takes an unfortunate shift into the realm of the dopey and depressing.

Director Stephen Herek (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) takes credit for the tonal change, describing how he wanted to imbue the movie with an American Beauty mystique he felt was lacking on the series. However, in taking a “less funny, more drama” approach, the creators lost sight a bit of what attracted the fans in the first place.

Not all is lost. Despite a few plot setups that seemingly go nowhere, some characters are allowed to experience significant growth through motifs of sacrifice and responsibility. And there are a number of good scenes and bits of dialogue that remind us of what we miss from the original series.

If that’s enough to entice the fans to re-watch the series, all the better. Those looking for a refresher course of the show can pick up a nine-disc complete collection (including the new movie) for $69.98.

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