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The Independent Culture

This typically noxious Nora Ephron concoction is ostensibly a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 The Shop Around the Corner, but it's most closely modelled on Ephron's own Sleepless in Seattle.

The film reunites Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as Joe and Kathleen, a couple who are made for each other (for no other reason other than that they are played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan), but don't know it and are kept apart throughout by idiotic contrivances. Joe and Kathleen are conducting an e-mail love affair unbeknownst to their respective, obviously disposable partners (Parker Posey, strenuously bitchy, and Greg Kinnear, in the Bill Pullman role).

What they don't realise is that, in real life, they hate each other - she owns a small children's bookstore, he owns a huge chain that's threatening to run her out of business. Ephron has set her film in Woody Allen terrain - Manhattan's affluent Upper West Side - and she makes the milieu more offputtingly insular than her fellow New Yorker ever has.

Ephron, who co-wrote the script with her sister Delia, directs with her usual lack of subtlety and over-reliance on dire pop-music standards. Both leads, instructed to be adorable, border on unwatchable - in particular Ryan, whose wrinkly-nosed cartoon-cute routine comes to have a scarily pathological quality.


And speaking of botched updates, this misguided Brad Pitt vehicle (directed by Scent of a Woman's Martin Brest) inflates the modest 79-minute 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday into a nearly-three-hour-long endurance test. This he does by adding redundant, banal dialogue, unbearably awkward pauses, and long, admiring gazes at Pitt's immaculate blond hairdo.

Death, in need of said vacation, assumes the body of Brad Pitt (and the name Joe Black), and pays a visit to a media tycoon (Anthony Hopkins) who's due to croak. In exchange for a postponement of his scheduled heart attack, the old guy agrees to serve as Death's earthly guide. His daughter, played by a worryingly blank Claire Forlani, serves as the token complicating love interest.