A more accurate title for 90 Minutes in Heaven would be 90 Minutes in a Hospital. Moviegoers hoping to gain a glimpse of what heaven might look like won’t get much of an idea from this religious drama based on a true story, which is set largely in a Houston medical center. In fact, only about five minutes of the film’s two-hour run time actually take place in the celestial dwelling, and the sequence in question occurs during the last 15 minutes. By then, most viewers will likely wish they were in heaven instead of watching this well-intended but plodding story.
The movie gets off to a strong enough start as it introduces us to Texas pastor Don Piper (Hayden Christensen), his devoted wife Eva (Kate Bosworth), and their three children. One day, while Piper is driving home in a heavy downpour, his car is crushed by a semitrailer truck that crosses into his lane on a rain-soaked bridge. When paramedics arrive and fail to locate a pulse, Piper is pronounced dead. His badly mangled body, twisted and trapped inside the car, is left there for 90 minutes. As he later explains, there was “no need for speed” to cut him out of the demolished vehicle, since he was considered deceased. Fortunately, a fellow pastor arrives on the scene, squeezes his way into Piper’s car, and begins to pray for him. As he does so, Piper miraculously comes back to life and begins to sing. He is then rushed to a nearby hospital. For the next hour and a half, the movie recounts in torturous, unnecessary detail Piper’s struggle to regain his health and walk again, while he also wrestles with the question of why God allowed this tragedy to happen.
One of the major problems with this film is that Piper remains silent regarding his heavenly experience, telling no one about it. Although this is true to the real-life story, it badly hampers the drama. By the time Piper finally opens up, more than 150 days after the accident, the revelation has lost much of its power. It doesn’t help that Piper is perpetually grumpy and unappreciative, and that his gloomy attitude soon becomes irritating. At one point, even his wife says, “I am tired of this.” Even more frustrating, Christensen gives a bland, one-note performance as Piper; sadly, he’s no more believable as a Texas pastor than he was as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. Bosworth, who is married to Michael Polish, the film’s writer-director, fares better, but her hubby’s lackluster script doesn’t give her much to do other than look harried and sit around waiting to hear updates from doctors in one lifeless scene after another, most of which should have been left on the cutting-room floor. Indeed, this movie could have been more ruthlessly edited from start to finish: When you have three scenes set at a McDonald’s, it’s time to take out the scissors.
Piper’s story is truly remarkable. He documented his account in a 2004 New York Times best-seller, and has spoken about his experience in churches around the world. It’s a pity his book has been adapted into such a laborious affair; viewers seeking a more polished and involving heavenly drama should instead check out Heaven Is for Real, which stars Greg Kinnear and was directed and co-written by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace. Late in 90 Minutes in Heaven, Piper, referring to his tragic ordeal, says, “If God brings you to it, he’ll see you through it.” God help anyone who attempts to sit through this listless mess.