For millions of people, a close encounter with death has enabled them to see with fresh eyes the beauty and bounty of life. In this fantasy film directed by Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman), the process is reversed. Several members of a fabulously rich family teach death about the pleasures of the flesh and the transports of love. So far, so good. The problem is: this light parabolic vehicle is weighed down by a tediously slow pace and overwrought production values. Even so, its simple message is worth taking to heart.
Brought to his knees by a heart seizure, New York media tycoon William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) hears death calling him. While one daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) is busy planning an elaborate celebration for his 65th birthday, his favorite daughter Susan (Claire Forlani), a physician, is being romanced by a handsome and charming stranger (Brad Pitt) in a coffee shop. When he is hit and killed by two cars, the Grim Reaper takes over his body and asks Parrish to serve as his tour guide in the land of the living. Adopting the name Joe Black, Death becomes addicted to peanut butter and eventually falls in love with Susan. In addition, he helps Parrish fend off the efforts of Drew (Jake Weber), his right-hand man, to sell off his company to a corporate raider.
In one of the opening scenes of the film, Parrish tells his daughter that he hopes she will find a lover who will enable her "to sing with rapture and to dance like a dervish." He wants her to be deliriously happy. That simple message about the spiritual firepower of love is what we are left with at the end of Meet Joe Black. Too bad it wasn't delivered in a more simple and lean package.