Film review: Hereafter

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It's testament to the poor writing of this Matt Damon vehicle that the crass exploitation of a natural disaster and a terrorist attack isn't even the worst thing about it

• Matt Damon plays psychic George in the film

Hereafter (12A) *

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Matt Damon, Ccile De France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard

CLINT Eastwood has directed some terrible movies in his time, but none quite as bad as Hereafter. A baby-brained meditation on the afterlife, it's a cosmic catastrophe, the kind of New Age nonsense a schoolkid might write before realising what a crock of hooey it was and binning it. Which is another way of saying the screenplay is by Peter Morgan. Fast becoming the British Paul Haggis, the Frost/Nixon scribe's tin ear for dialogue and fondness for contrived plotting have clearly found a sympathetic champion in Eastwood, not to mention executive producer Steven Spielberg, neither of whom seem unduly worried about a script that casually and brazenly exploits horrific memories of the 2004 tsunami, and the 2007 terrorist attacks on the London underground, for the sake of pepping up the film's conspicuous lack of drama.

Hereafter actually kicks off with the tsunami, and Eastwood blows the effects budget in the opening minutes by drowning an unnamed coastal resort in a literal sea of debris. Caught up in the tidal wave is Marie LeLay (Ccile De France), the presenter of a French current affairs television show who is on holiday with her producer boyfriend Didier (Thierry Nuviec). She's out buying trinkets for Didier's daughter when this natural disaster strikes and, in the ensuing chaos, she is swept through a horrifying, wild rapids obstacle course, replete with sparking electrical pylons, floating cars and dead bodies.

It's an effectively rendered set-piece: tense and immediate, with Eastwood focusing on the human cost rather than Michael Bay-style mayhem, but things quickly go off course.

When Marie temporarily drowns and starts having hazy spectral visions (before being yanked away from the light by the rescue and resuscitation efforts of a couple of locals), Eastwood and Morgan reveal their hand: yes, Hereafter really is going to be another I-see-dead-people movie, only this time with the attendant mysteries and pleasures offered by a more genre-driven ghost story replaced by shallow and self-important spiritual musings, and a dull, globetrotting, interlinked structure that weaves together three bogus stories in an unbelievable fashion.

And so, while Marie is recovering in France, trying to rationalise her visions by taking a leave of absence to write a terrible sounding book on the "conspiracy of silence" surrounding the existence of the afterlife, over in London, neglected schoolboy and social services red-flag Marcus is getting his own spiritual awakening courtesy of a terrible but wholly predictable tragedy that befalls his twin brother Jason (the boys are played by twins George and Frankie McLaren).

Feeling a profound sense of loss, Marcus becomes convinced Jason is looking out for him from beyond the grave after an incident involving a baseball cap prevents him from getting on a tube train moments before it is blown up by terrorists (something that is barely referred to again).

Seeking answers, he Googles "what happens when you die?", an astonishingly poor scene that I like to think mirrors the way Morgan started writing his awful screenplay.

Incredibly, Eastwood and Morgan lazily rely on the internet to link Marie and Marcus's lives to the third wheel in this rickety vehicle: a reluctant San Francisco-based psychic called George (Matt Damon). A childhood illness has cursed George with a Dead Zone handshake that enables him to commune with the deceased relatives of anyone he touches. George used to make lots of money from this, but he's turned his back on it to work in a sugar cane factory. As his brother (Jay Mohr) tells a colleague: "A life full of death is not a life". And in case you miss this point, George sledgehammers it home by repeatedly reminding everyone: "It's a curse, not a gift!"

It seems he really does just wants to be left alone, although his determination to lead a normal life apparently doesn't extend to taking down his website, which informs anyone who stumbles across it that "he genuinely talks to the dead". His brother even tells him "the website is still up", and yet still he doesn't take it down, presumably because Morgan and Eastwood need to set up a spurious third-act plot convergence.

How spurious is it? Let's just say it involves an unfeasibly well-funded book launch, the appearance of Derek Jacobi reading the collected works of Dickens, and the line "Aren't you that psychic?"

Here, Damon does his best to make Morgan's clanging dialogue ring true, but his young co-stars aren't skilled enough to do the same; Eastwood's fast, one-take shooting style means the boys playing Marcus often have the deer-in-headlights look of first time actors on a bad children's television drama, a standard above which Morgan's script rarely rises. It's astonishingly poor stuff, a work of staggering complacency, soundtracked - you'll be pleased to know - by another of Eastwood's retirement-home-friendly jazz scores.

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