Reincarnation has no appeal

Wednesday, August 21, 1991

By Ulrike Erhadt

Defending Your Life
Written and directed by Albert Brooks
Starring Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant and Buck Henry
Reviewed by Ulrike Erhadt

Don't bother Defending Your Life because Judgment City , somewhere in the universe, is a carbon copy of our world — except that it's more orderly and, therefore, more boring as well as being a reminder of what's wrong with people's conceptions.

That's what Daniel (Albert Brooks) finds out when he wants to get away from it all and accidentally collides with a bus, rendering him dead.

At Judgment City he is given nine days to defend his (previous) life. The stakes are reincarnation back on earth, which apparently doesn't hold any appeal for him, or advancement to a higher plane — an undefined place where people use more than 3% of their brains and eat food our tastebuds can't appreciate.

It's his attorney's task, played devilishly well by Rip Torn, to outwit the sharp but frustrated-looking prosecutor Lena Foster (Lee Grant) to prove that Daniel has conquered his fears in his previous and ensure his advance. Daniel isn't unduly concerned about it all, and neither are we, because its emotional impact is minimal.

While waiting for judgment day, Julia (Meryl Streep) falls in love with Daniel, possibly for lack of anything better to do. After sharing an uneventful dinner with her at which he declines her offer to soak in her jacuzzi for fear of catching AIDS, he regrets his decision and swears eternal love via a telephone message.

This is a rather depressing spoof from which we are given a few moments of light relief when Shirley MacLaine appears in a cameo role as a heavenly announcer who shows the marooned people of Judgment City their actual state of awareness. When Daniel finally overcomes his fears he is rewarded by being drawn into Julia's middle-aged bosom and allowed to gingerly peck her lips. But Julia isn't all that crash-hot looking in her white nightie, which forces her to walk like a duck!

What a pity Albert Brooks lacked the enlightenment to make this potentially funny story work. Despite being hailed as the US's most innovative film maker and teaming up with a distinguished cast, he proves that too many cooks can spoil the broth even if megabucks spice up the soup. Reincarnation has no appeal.

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