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Review: ‘90 Minutes in Heaven’ mistakes trauma for drama

‘90 Minutes in Heaven’

Eva Piper (Kate Bosworth) is in her classroom when she learns of her husband’s accident in “90 Minutes in Heaven.”

(Quantrell Colbert )

A powerful true-life story of faith, hope and survival has been turned into a didactic, painful slog in “90 Minutes in Heaven.” Based on the 2004 best-selling book by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey, the film chronicles Baptist minister Piper’s 1989 car wreck and his torturous road to recovery with the help of family and friends.

The twist in Piper’s tale: He was pronounced dead by rescue workers at the accident scene only to awake 90 minutes later. During that period, Piper says, he visited heaven, in all its traditional glory. Despite this wondrous experience, Piper goes through tremendous soul-searching before he understands its meaning and can share what he felt with others.

Intriguing and inspiring as Piper’s journey may be, the movie comes off as if director Michael Polish (“The Astronaut Farmer,” “Big Sur”) felt a slavish duty — or perhaps there was a mandate — to adhere to Pastor Don and his family’s every move and thought. To wit, the excessive voiceovers often sound more like sermons than movie dialogue.

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Although this well-meaning film may appeal to its intended audience on a spiritual level, the result is a sluggish, clinical, largely dreary portrait that tends to mistake trauma for drama.

As the anguished Piper, Hayden Christensen commits to his somber part but seems hemmed in by its beatific nature. That he spends so much of the movie lying immobile in a hospital bed adds to this sense of constraint. Kate Bosworth is equally dedicated to embodying Piper’s devoted wife, Eva, but also seems confined by her saintly role.

As for the film’s late-breaking vision of heaven, there’s not much new under the sun.

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“90 Minutes in Heaven.”

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense accident and injury images.

Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute.

Playing: In general release

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