[Screen It]


(2015) (Hayden Christensen, Kate Bosworth) (PG)

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Drama: A minister must contend with the aftermath of a severe auto accident that briefly sent him to Heaven, but has now left him and his family contending with his serious injuries and related self pity.
It's 1989 and Don Piper (HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN) is a 38-year-old Baptist preacher who lives in the suburbs of Houston with his school teacher wife, Eva (KATE BOSWORTH), and their three kids -- pre-teen Nicole (ELIZABETH HUNTER) and her younger twin brothers, Chris (HUDSON MEEK) and Joe (BOBBY BATSON). After consulting with retired minister Jay B. Perkins (FRED THOMPSON), Don hopes to start a new church.

But on his rainy return trip home from a conference, a tractor trailer drifts into his lane crossing a bridge, resulting in a horrific accident where Don is then pronounced dead by first responders. A local minister, Dick Onerecker (MICHAEL HARDING), stops by the site and wants to pray for Don's soul, only to find that he's alive now some ninety minutes after the accident.

After being stabilized there, Don is transferred to a Houston hospital better equipped to deal with his severe injuries. Those are noted by orthopedic surgeon Tom Greider (MARSHALL BELL) who informs Eva that her husband's recovery -- if he lives -- will be long and painful as he'll be fitted with large devices on his arm and leg designed to force his bones to grow back together again in each limb.

While consulting with ambulance chaser lawyer Cecil Beaumont (DWIGHT YOAKUM) about possible legal action, Eva must contend with Don's self pity, depression, and general lack of will to live. As the days and weeks pass by, she does what she can to care for him and their kids, all while continuing to work and wonder if things will ever get better, something Don's best friend and fellow minister, David Gentiles (JASON KENNEDY), hopes will happen with God's help.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Considering that a lot of people worldwide believe in Heaven, it's surprising that more movies haven't dealt with that locale or the trip of getting there. Perhaps it's due to the problematic issue of depicting the place to appease everyone's expectations (beyond the cloudy environs, the Pearly Gates, winged angels, halos, and everyone attired in white). Or maybe studios figure viewers are more interested in the ghostly side of the afterlife than in the heavenly one.

Whatever the case, most people would be hard-pressed to name twenty films where Heaven is prominently featured. Sure, there are various movies where it's briefly depicted (such as "Heaven Can Wait") or literally abstractly painted ("What Dreams May Come"), but more often than not it's just a brief glimpse, with the rest of the action, so to speak, occurring back on Earth.

That was certainly the case in "Heaven is For Real," the Greg Kinnear-starring 2014 drama, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, where his pastor character's son claimed to have visited the titular location. Briefly seen, the account of that visit shook the man's faith to the point that it nearly derailed his role at his church and in his community.

In a similar vein, we now have "90 Minutes in Heaven," also based on a book -- the 2004 New York Times best-selling work written by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey -- and also featuring a minister whose faith is shaken by a trip to Heaven.

In this case, however, it's the minister who travels there, for the titular amount of time, following a car accident where he was pronounced dead on the scene, only to be discovered alive there an hour and a half later.

As in most of those other films, the Heavenly ascent is only briefly featured (lots of white light with views of former family members and friends there to meet him), with the rest taking place back on terra firma for the long recovery process. And by long I mean long and often nearly dramatically inert, as the minister (played by Hayden Christensen of "Star Wars" fame, struggling with the accent he's attempting here) goes into a long period of self-pity, depression, and a general lack of will to live, all during his lengthy hospital stay.

The drama, or what little there is of it, is stretched out over two hours and stems from Don's funk having an understandably adverse affect on his relationship with his wife (a decent Kate Bosworth) who grows concerned and then frustrated by her husband giving up and not engaging with anyone.

That's certainly a believable development, but writer/director Michael Polish (who just so happens to be Bosworth's husband), lets that drag on and become far too repetitive and depressing. At least "Heaven is For Real" built on the conflict stemming from the boy's claims and his father's shaken belief. Here, it mostly remains stagnant.

And what initially appears to be a welcomed subplot featuring an ambulance chaser lawyer (played by Dwight Yoakum apparently trying to instill some comic relief) sniffing around the case evaporates far too quickly once his character learns the state of Texas caps its monetary damages to an amount too low for his further involvement.

Thus, we get scene after scene of Don being depressed, bitter and/or angry, while Eva grows frustrated, and a few people (Fred Thompson and Jason Kennedy) stop by to try to talk some sense into the fallen minister. There's little doubt he'll eventually see the light, so to speak, not only because his early and then continued voice-over narration all but tells us that will happen, but also because we inherently know that's likely where the story will be headed.

That's all fine and dandy conceptually, but so much of the film is inert that it seems to be going nowhere for far too long. Perhaps had the film spent more time detailing those heavenly ninety minutes, the offering might have worked better, or at least been more interesting.

As it stands, it sort of feels like watching a real-time and laborious recreation of one's recovery, physically and eventually psychologically and spiritually, from such an accident. Without enough varied drama to fill that time, "90 Minutes in Heaven" feels far longer than its two-hour runtime. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed September 8, 2015 / Posted September 11, 2015

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