, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, Marcia Gay Harden
The sign just off-camera must have read Go Really Slow. That's the only explanation for the dawdling pace of Meet Joe Black. Actors pause ponderously between lines and cues, and director-producer Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman) makes like molasses in cutting from one scene to the next. The end result? This mushy romantic drama clocks in at close to three squirm-inducing hours. Sure, it's a pleasure to gaze upon the equally beauteous Pitt and Forlani, but too much of a good thing becomes overkill.
It's not that the story being told is excessively complicated. The title character (Pitt) is really Death, who has come to Earth in the body of a gorgeous guy to escort up yonder a wealthy Manhattan media tycoon (Hopkins). First, though, Pitt wants to sojourn among the living and asks Hopkins to serve as his guide. Hopkins's incentive? As long as Death hangs around on terra firma, so does he. That is fine by Hopkins until Pitt falls in love with his daughter (Forlani), a physician, and she with him. Death, after all, isn't exactly promising husband material.
The main problem with this movie, based on a vintage play, Death Takes a Holiday (which inspired the 1934 film with Fredric March as Death and a 1971 TV movie with Monte Markham), is its woozy, inconsistent conception of Black. He's supposedly so new to corporality that he doesn't know what peanut butter is (though he's soon savoring it as if it were caviar), and yet a few scenes later he's playing corporate hardball. It doesn't help that Pitt plays the role as if someone had just buzzed him with a stun gun, coming off too often as a slightly dazed simpleton.
Hopkins, all gruff charm and paternal concern, is really the movie's main character. His farewell scene with his less-favored daughter (Harden, who's excellent) gives Joe Black its most affecting moments. As for the feline Forlani (The Rock), she rarely shows enough snap to make a deep impression. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Romantic, but could have used Dr. Kevorkian in the cutting room