“Defending Your Life” is the kind of movie that sounds absolutely great on paper, but somehow ends up being about as bland and unexciting as vanilla yogurt. The main reason any of it is even passably entertaining is its central concept, which follows lead Albert Brooks after he dies and ends up in Judgment City, a ‘waiting room city’ of sorts where ‘lawyers’ hash out the merits of his life to decide whether he can ascend to transcendence or must return to Earth to start all over again. The first 15 minutes or so manage to make a lot out this idea, with a number of hilarious sight gags and humorous interactions as Brooks as attempts to figure out what, exactly, is happening to him; and once in a while the narrative throws the audience a funny bone during the cross-examination scenes, but other than that, it’s just so… slow. It should be hilarious especially with such a high-caliber cast with considerable comedic chops, but somehow it just feels repetitive and strained, like it shot its wad in the first bit and now has nowhere left to go. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Brooks myself but I can take him or leave him, and he’s fine here I guess (if a bit on the plaintive, haughty side) but he has negative-zero chemistry with romantic interest Meryl Streep. Streep herself is totally overqualified for her nothing burger of a role, and she can’t overcome the lack of chemistry with Brooks so you just end up wondering what attracted her to this movie in the first place. Luckily, Rip Torn and Lee Grant snap, crackle and pop in meaty supporting roles as the dueling ‘lawyers, each going for the jugular like nothing could be more fun, and they contribute to making the whole thing at least diverting, if never really approaching ha-ha levels of funny.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)