Heart and Souls

(Ron Underwood, USA, 1993)


The miracle of movie entertainment never ceases to fascinate me. Every year feel-good confections appear (particularly from America) that are effortlessly ingenious, well crafted, uplifting … and absolutely ephemeral.

Although these movies seem to add up to very little, and no one seriously remembers them even six months after their initial release, they can nonetheless touch, for the fleeting moment of their public existence, deep levels of audience emotion.

Heart and Souls is a perfect example of this remarkable phenomenon. In the tradition of Ghost (1990) and Chances Are (1989), it enlivens a depressed, everyday social milieu with a little touch of the supernatural.

Four people (played by Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard, Tom Sizemore and Kyra Sedgwick) die in a freak bus accident; since their individual destinies have not been fully resolved, all their souls pass into one new-born babe, who grows up to be Thomas (Robert Downey Jr).

Every viewer knows how this plot will play out. Racing against an impossible deadline, Thomas will fearlessly fulfil the dream of each of his inner spirits: to sing on a stage, find one’s lost family, or undo a terrible crime. The predictable nature of both the story and its heart-tugging sentiment detracts not one jot from the enormous viewing pleasure that the film gives.

Director Ron Underwood (Tremors [1990], City Slickers [1991]) handles this material with great skill and inventiveness, keeping the big structural problem of the script – the fact that Thomas’ own story or character is not nearly as captivating as those of his resident souls – under steady control.

This is a film to be cherished, in passing, for its tears, its sing-alongs, and its lovely touches of pop culture poetry, such as the earthly bus of death which magically becomes a ghostly, user-friendly conduit to the afterlife.

MORE Underwood: Mighty Joe Young, Speechless

© Adrian Martin September 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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