THE PITCH: Death touches the lives of three strangers - successful French newswoman Marie LeLay (Cécile de France), poor English schoolboy Marcus (played by twins Frankie and George McLaren), and George (Matt Damon), a factory worker/psychic - prompting them all to wonder, "What really happens when we die?" A feeble, Crash-esque attempt at intertwining the three lives and pondering the great beyond follows.
MONEY SHOTS: The film opens with the surging waters of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The sea swells backward then, with apocalyptic force, engulfs the quiet seaside resort town where Marie is vacationing with her producer beau (Thierry Neuvic). Marcus shuffles through the Underground and just misses the train at the Charing Cross station. Moments later the train explodes, presumably a reference to the 2005 Tube bombing in London.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: George is a psychic by way of a surgical mishap during childhood. When George touches hands with someone, he receives flashes of the individual's deepest, darkest secrets. This makes relationships difficult. Marie has the usual vision of bright light and silhouetted figures during her (near) death experience.
WHAT THE DICKENS? George is Charles Dickens' No. 1 fan - he's got a sketch of the English author hanging in his sparse apartment and listens to audio books from the Dickens cannon to soothe his tired psychic mind. During a trip to London, George visits Dickens' home and knows the answer to all the tour guide's trivia. (Did you know Dickens had 10 kids? George does.)
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Marie and Marcus both turn to Google for answers to The Big Question. Marie types up her book's manuscript (on the political conspiracy to cover up the truth about the hereafter, nonetheless) using a Macbook Pro. Marie's likeness is plastered all over Paris in a new Blackberry ad campaign. George and others fly across the pond on Virgin Air.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: M. Knight Shyamalan didn't direct this? It has all the ingredients of a Shyamalan picture: Shaky spiritual/supernatural premise, Bryce Dallas Howard and Mark Wahlberg, er, I mean, Matt Damon. In fact, Peter Morgan's (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) first-draft of a script was originally sent to Shyamalan before Steven Spielberg snatched it up and passed it along to Eastwood.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Treated individually, any one of these stories probably could have been fleshed out into a meaningful character study. Presented together, however, makes the whole thing feel superficial and contrived, especially the finale's ridiculous love connection. Nobody expects Eastwood or Morgan to actually answer the question, "What happens when we die?" But we'd at least like to feel engaged in an interesting discussion about the subject. Really, teenagers hot-boxing their parents' van have had more insight into the afterlife.