Over Her Dead Body

All hail Paul Rudd! You give him something lukewarm like “Over Her Dead Body” and he’ll enliven it with charming sarcasm and impeccable comedic instincts. Of course, he has Eva Longoria working hard to undermine everything he does, flopping around frantically while he delights in understatement, but I think he eventually outweighs her.

Rudd plays Henry, a veterinarian whose bridezilla fiancee, Kate (Longoria), is killed on their wedding day. Why he loved such a b-word in the first place is a mystery, and so is his moping that continues for a year afterward. His layabout sister Chloe (Lindsay Sloane) is concerned.

“You don’t smile, and you never leave your apartment,” she says.

“I like my apartment,” he replies. “Nobody hassles me when I don’t smile there.”

At last Chloe drags him to a psychic to see if they can contact Kate and get some closure. The psychic is Ashley (Lake Bell), a pretty young thing who is also a part-time caterer. (The film very awkwardly presents this information by showing her kitchen full of food and an assistant helping to cook it, not telling us until much later WHY all that food is there.) Henry is sarcastic about the whole psychic thing, but he goes along with it for his sister’s sake — plus, he kind of likes Ashley.

When the seance is ineffective, Chloe conspires with Ashley to trick Henry into moving on with his life. She gives Ashley Kate’s diary, with instructions to use the information in it to pretend she has contacted the dead woman. This turns out to be unnecessary, though: Kate’s spirit actually shows up and starts harassing Ashley, whom she correctly believes has a crush on Henry.

As I type this, I realize there’s a lot more going on here than there ought to be. There’s using the diary to mislead Henry, the angry ghost pestering the psychic, Henry’s mixed feelings about moving on with his life — and I haven’t even mentioned Ashley the psychic’s gay friend Dan (Jason Biggs), who gets a truly bizarre subplot of his own very late in the film. Writer/director Jeff Lowell (who wrote “John Tucker Must Die”) tries to keep one foot in supernatural-wacky-comedy territory and the other in traditional-romantic-comedy territory, including the Discovery Of The Lie sequence and the Airport Reconciliation finale. Some of the slapstick humor is egregiously miscalculated.

Yet there are just enough laughs in the film to make it watchable, despite Longoria’s insufferable performance as the bitchy, spite-driven dead fiancee. Her over-the-top delivery is one of the reasons I find “Desperate Housewives” unbearable, and she certainly doesn’t dial it down here as she ceaselessly harasses poor Ashley — the only one who can see or hear her — into leaving “her” guy alone.

Ignoring her, though, Rudd and Bell are charming together, almost like they’re in another movie entirely. With Rudd’s appearance as a secondary character in several excellent comedies, and Bell’s recognizable talents from TV’s “Surface” and “Boston Legal,” they both deserve top spots in a good movie comedy. “Over Her Dead Body” isn’t it, but it’ll do for now.

B- (1 hr., 35 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, some mild sexuality, some vulgar references.)