As my mom pointed out, Robin Williams movies are almost never what you expect.
The previews make this movie look like a light-hearted movie about a man living in his dreams. That could have been fun. In fact, bits of that portion of the movie were fun.
But for the most part, this is a movie about reacting to death and loss. A pretty serious tear-jerker.
Early in the movie Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra (man, she's sexy :-) lose their children in a car accident. Later, we see how they work together to get through panic attacks. Then, Robin is killed in another auto accident.
This is where we meet Cuba Gooding. And this is where the movie starts leaning on exposition to help the audience along. One problem with most spritual movies (Poltergiest, Ghost, Heart and Souls) is that they have to spend a significant chunk of time explaining to the audience what the characters are capable of and what restrictions they have. Robin's and Annabella's phone call just before the accident did a great job of showing how their relationship worked. After Robin died, most of the other charaters told us what was going on.
As I said, the early Heaven bits are pretty good. Good camera work and fairly seamless use of special effect. The characters' connection through the painting. It all worked pretty well.
But after we leave the painting things start getting a little clunky. In the city scene there were a lot of floating angels, and it's simply too obvious that they're hanging on wires. Walt Disney once said that the trick to special effects is to change the gag. If you intersperse different techniques from different camera angles the brain has a hard time catching up. The sense of verisimilitude is much strengthened.
In this case, they could have used wires sometimes, have them stand on a platform that's hidden under flowing clothing (magician's floating woman trick,) more computer effects, lay people on their stomachs and backs and rotate them optically. Seeing the same thing over and over was just too obvious.
On top of the jarring wire-flying, the entire city scene felt like a forced fit. They needed a spot to reveal the daughter and they couldn't find a role for her in the latter parts of the movie. And they needed two children to split up the flashbacks. One child would have come across as too pat. But two came across as too scattered.
Immediately after that, we jump quickly into the mini-quest. They tried to imply epic struggles, but they're simply two quick scenes on too-small sets with some over-done music. It really felt like this part belonged in a novel, where it could make up a substantial second act. In a movie it got chopped to almost nothing.
Through it all, the tracker character is explaining what Robin can and can't do, foreshadowing Robin performing the impossible. One thing that's often bugged me in supernatural stories is the tracker. "Nobody has ever made it out of there. We need a tracker." What good is a tracker if he doesn't know anything more than the main characters? I guess they're usually necessary for exposition, as in this movie.
I wanted to like this movie. I like the main actors, and the supernatural storyline wasn't bad. But the previews don't to a good job of setting you up for the subject matter. And several points of execution are clumsy. Hell was cut way too short. Both of the children recognitions felt very contrived.
On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, this movie rates a Pay Per View. So much time was spent explaining that it felt like big parts of the movie were missing.
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