Meet Joe Black

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What's more of a fantasy: that supremely wealthy, control freak, media mogul Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) can reach retirement age beloved by everyone he's ever met, or that the dreaded duo of death and taxes can be embodied in a package as glowingly attractive as Brad Pitt?

Actually, the way director Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman) caresses the fabulously opulent Parrish-New York properties with his camera, Meet Joe Black becomes as much a fantasy of serene wealth and comfort as otherworldly intercession. But, alas, you can't take it with you.

In Meet Joe Black -- loosely based on the play (and 1934 film) Death Takes a Holiday -- Pitt's stiff Grim Reaper arrives to make a deal. If Bill serves as Death's earthly guide, the dying man gets a few more days of life.

Director Brest then follows three intersecting storylines: Bill's lavish birthday party planned by his approval-seeking eldest daughter (Marcia Gay Harden); an office coup orchestrated by Bill's trusted aide-de-camp (Jake Weber); and the romance between Joe and Bill's younger daughter (Claire Forlani), a young doctor waiting to be swept off her feet by love -- the connection between Pitt and the alluring Forlani is surprisingly touching.

At nearly three hours, Meet Joe Black takes its dear sweet time at everything and focuses on small moments -- with lots of extreme close-ups. But all the lovely set design and photography only add up to a pleasant diversion about the exquisite nature of passion and peanut butter.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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