Heart and Souls was an August-dump movie in the summer of 1993. The critics of the day pretty roundly trashed it, and it only made about $16 million, but it was also Robert Downey Jr.'s first movie after his Oscar nomination for Chaplin. I had been so moved and enchanted by that performance that I gamely bought a ticket to see his new film. It has a pretty complicated plot and it's very definitely an attempt to replicate some Capra feelgood schmaltz, but for me it worked.
It begins in the 1950s when four different people -- all with unfinished issues -- board a bus. The bus gets into an accident with a car that's headed on the way to a hospital, carrying a pregnant mother. Due to some unexplained divine intervention, the four new ghosts (Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard, Kyra Sedgwick and Tom Sizemore) are assigned to look after the newborn boy, Thomas Reilly. No one knows why they're there. He can see them and talk to them, but no one else can. After a while, Thomas gets into trouble because of his "imaginary friends" and the ghosts decide to disappear.
Years later, Thomas (Downey) grows into a scumbag banker and the ghosts return to finish the job; in essence, the ghosts help straighten him out and help him earn the love of Elisabeth Shue, and he in turn helps them resolve their issues and enter heaven. Director Ron Underwood (Tremors, The Adventures of Pluto Nash) doesn't exactly have the lightest of touches, and composer Marc Shaiman (Patch Adams, The Bucket List) lays on the sugary music with an ice cream scoop, and Downey doesn't even appear for a good half hour. But it has some gorgeous San Francisco locations, and we're talking about a terrific, highly skilled cast that somehow manages to sell every scene. Downey in particular is perfect for this kind of role. He savors the jerk portion of his character, relishing his bad, slimy behavior, but he's also capable of being truly genuine and lovable, and he makes the awkward transformation smooth and believable. (It's especially fun when the ghosts take over his body; he even gets to sing!) I only saw Heart and Souls one time, but I have remained fond of it, despite its annoying power to leave not a dry eye in the house.
Watch Heart and Souls over at SlashControl.