Defending Your Life Review

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Daniel Miller (Brooks) is an ad man who is killed in a car accident. He awakes to find himself in Judgment City, on trial to determine his fate. During the day, he must prove in court that he overcame his fears; at night, he looks for love and pleasure in the city.


Albert Brooks (real name Albert Einstein, no kidding), Saturday Night Live alumnus and highly successful stand-up comic, is a talented (Lost In America) but erratic (Modern Romance) writer-director; a good actor (Broadcast News) and an attractive personality. In his new movie he is never less than pleasing - it's the movie that's the problem.

Daniel Miller (Brooks), a good-natured, divorced ad-man who talks in amusing one-liners, is killed, and finds himself transported to Judgement City, a mega-luxury hotel and entertainment complex where the dead are examined by lawyers and judges who determine whether or not they must return to earth for their umpteenth reincarnation. The judgement is based on the zombie's fear ratio. Fear, according to Daniel's defending counsel (Rip Torn) - who argues that his client has conquered it - is the single greatest obstacle to man's integrity and happiness.

In Judgement City, where you can eat limitless quantities of ultra-delicious nosh without feeling full or putting on weight, Daniel meets Julia (Meryl Streep), a paragon of virtue, and they fall instantly in love, a state of affairs which gives the movie its message: with fear there can be no love; without love there is no life. From this sweet and simple premise, Brooks has constructed a ponderous piece of well-meaning whimsy, a toothless philospohical wolf in comic-romatic sheep's clothing.

In her smallest role since Manhattan, Meryl Streep is fresh and charming and the scenes between her and Brooks are the most enjoyable. Veterans Torn and Lee Grant play their idiotic characters for all they're worth, and acquit themselves reasonably well.

The movie is lavishly designed and assembled. However, the sometimes muddled, sometimes boring, and definitely overlong screenplay, lacking subtlety and definition, disappoints the expectations of enjoyment that are set up in the first 15 minutes.