Maudlin Matter of Life and Death

Meet Bob and Gail Jones. They're about to have their first child. And Bob is dying of cancer. It's quite a lot to learn about a couple in the first few minutes of being introduced, the kind of information that makes you want to mumble a condolence and flee. But "My Life," a film written and directed by the creator of "Ghost," is the earnest kind of tear-jerker that shames you into sticking with it, if only because it stars the appealingly unpredictable Michael Keaton. If only you had known that the film doesn't live up to Keaton's efforts. Bob (Keaton), a slick and successful owner of a Los Angeles public relations firm, decides to make a video about his life for his unborn child, whose birth doctors tell him he probably will not live to see. But when he begins his project, Bob comes to an annoying realization: He doesn't know who he is or what his life was about. He doesn't even really remember his childhood, which he blocked out of his consciousness as soon as he fled Detroit and his working-class family for a beautiful house and beautiful wife (Nicole Kidman) in California. Angry and resistant to taking an unflinching look at his life, Bob is pushed in the right direction by a Chinese faith healer whom Gail insists he see. While moving his hands over Bob's body like divining rods, the healer (Dr. Haing S. Ngor) imparts such pearls of wisdom as "let go of your anger" and "forgive" that presumably will either cure Bob of the cancer that is ravaging his body or prepare him to accept death. With his camera constantly filming, Bob travels home for his estranged brother's wedding and a confrontation with his parents. He visits his childhood home ("It's so small," he says, roaming around the backyard) and the hiding place where he used to pout as a boy. Bob's predictable discovery of his "inner child" and his hardwon acceptance of his family is far less interesting and entertaining than the life lessons he videos for his unborn son. Keaton's wry humour provides some much needed levity as Bob demonstrates the proper way to walk into a room, how to shave ("never sideways") and how to make a lay-up shot into a Fisher-Price basketball net. When he comes to discussing sex, he stares blankly into the camera for a moment before switching it off. "My Life" is an apt title for the movie, which is perhaps the most solipsistic film about death ever made. As Gail, Kidman is barely given a character, let alone any decent lines. Her story -- a future mother about to lose her husband -- is simply not part of this maudlin movie. She is another in the line of Hollywood cartoon wives -- sweet, supportive, beautiful and absolutely boring. Bob barely even acknowledges that his death might be distressing to her, too. Instead, she is expected to help Bob resolve the conflicts in his life before it is too late. Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote and directed "My Life," got the idea for the movie after a bout of intense stomach pain that led him to wonder what his children would know about him if he died. He falls back on the same overly simplified idea behind "Ghost:" that not only can one not die until confronting oneself, but that once all the pieces are put in place, dying is really not so bad. It is essentially a Christian concept -- good people shouldn't be afraid of dying because they go to heaven -- in the guise of the New Age idea of death as the ultimate learning experience. "My Life" even suggests that death can be joyful, and that Bob's child will be lucky to have such a delightful video Dad. "My Life" will be shown at the Americom House of Cinema, inside the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel, through the end of June. Showtimes are 7:30 P.M. weekdays; 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. Friday; 5, 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. Saturday and 5 and 7:30 P.M. Sunday. Tickets are the ruble equivalent of $7. Tel. 941-8890. Nearest metro: Kievskaya.