Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra star in this visually stunning metaphysical tale of life after death. Neurologist Chris and artist Annie had the perfect life until they lost their children in an auto accident; they're just starting to recover when Chris meets an untimely death himself. He's met by a messenger named Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and taken to his own personal afterlife--a freshly drawn world reminiscent of Annie's own artwork, still dripping and wet with paint. Meanwhile a depressed Annie takes her own life, compelling Chris to traverse heaven and hell to save Annie from an eternity of despair.
The multitextured visuals seem to have been created from a lost fairy tale. Heaven recalls the landscape paintings of Thomas Cole and Renaissance architecture complete with floating cherubs, while hell is a massive shipwreck, an upside-down cathedral overgrown with thorns and a sea of groaning faces popping out of the ground (one of those faces is German director Werner Herzog). Williams is the perfect actor to play against the imaginative computer-generated imagery--he himself is a human special effect. But the lack of chemistry between Williams and Sciorra is painfully apparent, and the flashback plot structure flattens the story's impact despite its deeply felt examinations of the heart and the spirit. Still, there's no denying Eugenio Zanetti's triumphant production design and the Oscar-winning special effects, which create a fully formed universe that is at once beautiful, eerie, and a unique example of movie magic. --Shannon Gee