Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dead Like Me: Life After Death (2009)

When cult TV show Dead Like Me was unceremoniously yanked off the air after only getting through two seasons, fans were understandably upset. Questions were left unanswered and it just felt as if the show was somehow unfinished. Five years later we get Dead Like Me: Life After Death, a direct-to-DVD movie that revisits our favorite characters from the show and will hopefully bring some closure to the series.

After a brief recap of the show (a young woman named Georgia [George for short] Lass dies an untimely death at the hands of a toilet seat from space and becomes a Grim Reaper. She must never see or communicate with her old family again or make any human connections, just do her job taking souls as a Reaper) that is told in weird comic book format (perhaps trying to cash in on Heroes’ popularity, though they are a little late for that), we fast forward five years to pick up with the Reaper’s beloved meeting spot, Der Waffle House, burning to the ground. George (Ellen Muth) is joined by fellow Reaper’s Roxy (Jasmine Guy), Mason (Callum Blue) and Daisy (Sarah Wynter replacing Laura Harris). Their “boss” Rube (played on the series by the great Mandy Patinkin) is missing and taking his place is the rich and debonair Cameron Kane (Henry Ian Cusick). Things start going astray as the Reapers begin neglecting their duties under Kane’s care and all of Death’s secrets threaten to come unraveled after George’s sister Reggie (Britt McKillip) discovers George is a Reaper.

I was really hoping this would be the “series finale” that the show ultimately deserved, but now I think I would have rather have the open-ended season 2 finale as the absolute end of the show instead of this afterthought of a film. The film really wasn’t that bad, but it just felt like another (rather ho-hum) episode of the original show. There wasn’t any real conflict going on and I felt the script was much weaker than the script from the show’s best episodes. Plus, one of the many charms of the show were the eccentric characters, but not very much time is spent on any of them. I know those familiar with the show will miss seeing Mason’s zany antics or Roxy’s bad ass attitude, which seem to be missing from this film.

Also missing are Mandy Patinkin as Rube and Laura Harris as Daisy. Their presence and the dynamic they brought to the show are sorely missed. Sarah Wynter is horrible as Daisy and those that are familiar with Harris’ stellar performance in the show will cringe at Wynter’s portrayal of her character. Also, Henry Ian Cusick is a poor excuse for Mandy Patinkin, no matter how charming or handsome he may be. Bottom line, the filmmakers should have done more to reunite the entire cast for this film, because those missing would have definitely made this a far more enjoyable film to sit through.

Most of all, though, I think the film’s tone was off. The show always focused on death, but I feel like the movie focuses far too much on life. George is constantly building relationships with humans (her sister, her “reaps,” her boss at Happy Time – yup Dolores Herbig [Christine Willes] returns!) and dealing with “life” issues (like her sister’s secret-boyfriend’s coma) instead of “death” issues.  Also, the show always featured some pretty cool deaths (George and her band of merry Reaper’s specialties include accidents, natural disasters, suicides, etc.) but the movie feels very much lacking in that department. With the exception of the first reap by George (a suicidal contraption that reminded me of both The Goonies and Saw), the deaths flat-out suck. I mean a guy choking on some candy and dying two seconds later? C’mon!!

The only real fun I had with the film was seeing the people from the original show again. It was fun to see Muth, Blue, Guy, McKillip, Willes, and even Cynthia Stevenson return as George and Reggie’s mom. There is some luster of the original series left in this film, but it is dull in comparison with the series. The film doesn’t really add much and fails to wrap up any loose ends. In fact, I think the film created more loose ends than it actually wrapped up!

If you are a fan of the original series, stick with the series finale. It might be slightly unsatisfying, but at least it’s better than this messy film that asks more questions than it answers. If you are a newbie to Dead Like Me, for the love of Grim Reapers don’t start with the film! Do yourself a favor and watch the wonderful series, but don’t rush out to watch this film.

Available from Amazon!

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