Meet Joe Black
seemed almost fated to fail when it was released in 1998, but this romantic fantasy--a remake of 1934's Death Takes a Holiday
--deserves a chance at life after box-office death. Although many moviegoers were turned off by director Martin Brest's overindulgent three-hour running time, those who gear into its deliberate pace will find that Meet Joe Black
offers ample reward for your attention.
Brad Pitt plays Death with a capital D, enjoying some time on Earth by inhabiting the body of a young man who'd been killed in a shockingly sudden pedestrian-auto impact. Before long, Death has ingratiated himself with a wealthy industrialist (Anthony Hopkins) and pursues romance with the man's beautiful daughter (newcomer Claire Forlani), whom he'd briefly encountered while still an earthbound human. Under the assumed identity of "Joe Black," he samples all the pleasures that corporeal life has to offer--power, romance, sex, and such enticing pleasures as peanut butter by the spoonful.
But Death has a job to do, and Meet Joe Black addresses the heart-wrenching dilemma that arises when either father or daughter (the plot keeps us guessing) must confront his or her inevitable demise. The film takes its own sweet time to establish this emotional crisis and the love that binds Hopkins's semidysfunctional family so closely together. But if you've stuck with the story this far, you may find yourself surprisingly affected. And if Meet Joe Black has really won you over, you'll more than appreciate the care and affection that gives the film a depth and richness that so many critics chose to ignore. --Jeff Shannon