Heart and Souls
1993, PG-13, 104 min. Directed by Ron Underwood. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Charles Grodin, Kyra Sedgwick, Elisabeth Shue, Tom Sizemore, David Paymer, Alfre Woodard.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 13, 1993
Heart and Souls is a pleasant enough little ensemble piece that suffers mostly from a lack of clear direction. It lurches between comedy and drama and romance and special effects, so much so that it unfolds like a buffet line at which consumers can pick and choose which pieces they want to put on their individual plates. You can even see it in the marketing campaign for the movie which vacillates between a wide variety of commercials and advertising materials, each stressing different story aspects and audiences. It denotes a certain confusion in its focus, as well as the hope that director Underwood (Tremors, City Slickers) will once again score big points in broad market appeal. If Heart and Souls is a bit disjointed in its overall game plan, it succeeds in its little moments and in its ensemble performances. The cast is marvelous and works together beautifully. If Chaplin didn't do it for him, then Heart and Souls will be the movie that proves Downey, Jr. to be one of the greatest physical chameleons of his acting generation. His sense of mimicry and ability to get inside the skin of other characters serves him well in this movie whose premise involves four different characters who must inhabit his body for a time so that their souls can rest in eternal peace. The story is a variation of an old chestnut about missed opportunities and living life to its fullest brought up to date with modern computer techniques. Four people (Grodin, Sedgwick, Sizemore, and Woodard) in the prime of their lives die suddenly in a bus accident and find themselves inexplicably “attached” to Thomas (Downey, Jr.), a baby born at the moment of their deaths. For 30 years they traipse around with him everywhere he goes not knowing the reason their souls have glommed onto his body. This allows for many delightful sequences in which all five players occupy the screen at once, cramming the boundaries with their little pieces of business, playfulness, and ennui. They all work in tandem to create this strange effort of five people all inhabiting one person's life. But there are also times in which the viewer can become mystified by the ghost logic and inconsistent physical laws. Perhaps I quibble too much and resist the wave of redemption and eternal resolution that swells with the movie (along with its music). And perhaps the viewer needs to be more of a Frank Capra booster than I am in order to truly appreciate the humanism of It's a Wonderful Heart, Life and Souls. And even if, at times, it seems terribly episodic as it plunges into each character's separate story and then back and forth between drama and comedy, the performances are constantly fun and fresh. These ghosts of a second chance just try too hard to be all things to all people.