Oct. 22 2010 12:00 AM

'What-ev-er' is the only reaction for director Clint Eastwood's ponderous 'Hereafter'

Belinda Carlisle once assured us heaven is a place on earth.
Director Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" makes it clear that limbo is a
place inside a movie theater. It’s a meditation on mortality that doesn’t
overindulge in shocks or sentimentality, but when it comes to ponderousness,
well, the sky’s the limit.

Peter Morgan's screenplay takes its sweet old time linking
together (in a spectacularly silly way) three storylines: One of them is
moderately engaging but underdeveloped, while the other two are tedious and

The intriguing mini-drama involves George Lonegan (Matt
Damon, effectively underplaying), a San Francisco warehouse worker with a
secret: He was once a popular — and successful — psychic, a la John Edward
(“Crossing Over”). If George’s brother, Billy (Jay Mohr), had his way, George
would still be pulling down big fees for putting clients in touch with their
departed spouses and children. But George has grown to detest his supposed
talent: “It’s not a gift, Billy,” he grumbles. “It’s a curse. It makes me feel
like a freak. It ruins any chance I might have at a normal life.”

There’s plenty of potential in the Lonegans’ tug-of-war, but
Morgan gives equal time to the tales of a British boy named Marcus (Frankie
McLaren) whose world collapses after the sudden death of his twin brother, and
a dreary chronicle of French TV journalist Marie Lelay (Cecile de France),
whose near-death experience changes the course of her career and her life.

Marie almost drowned when a tsunami destroyed the beachside town
where she and her boyfriend were vacationing — a startling sequence that’s
undermined by some half-baked CGI work that makes it look like the trailer for
“The Day After the Day After Tomorrow” — and, in the weeks following her return
home, she’s mystified by visions of shadowy figures bathed in milky white
light. Meanwhile, Marcus tries to make contact with his deceased brother, only
to be conned by a string of bogus “spiritualists” and “sensitives.”

It’s obvious Morgan and Eastwood are trying to create a
thoughtful, thought-provoking picture of how grief and survivor guilt (or the
uncomfortable feeling of being “special”) can affect a person’s outlook. “A
life that’s all about death is no life at all,” George has told Billy, and
that’s demonstrated in the emotional paralysis that engulfs Marcus.

Sadly, the admirable intentions don’t pay off in compelling
drama. Outside of the tsunami sequence, “Hereafter” is a film that strenuously
avoids anything exciting or emotionally charged. The trio of character portraits
may take place in different countries, but they share the same tasteful,
plodding, restrained tone. Granted, nobody wants to see Eastwood indulging in
“Paranormal Activity”-style hijinks, but the movie practically cries out for a
little suspense or humor. As it is, “Hereafter” often amounts to nearly two
hours and 10 minutes of glum faces, with Damon, de France and McLaren in
downbeat mode from start to finish. Of the three, only Damon manages to
construct a genuinely fascinating character.

Although “Hereafter” argues there must be some sort of life
after death, Eastwood is only sporadically successful when it comes to
convincing us there’s much life after the opening credits.