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Super Bowl Report

5. 'Heaven Can Wait'

February 01, 2009|Geoff Boucher

"Heaven Can Wait" is like an undrafted free agent who becomes the Super Bowl MVP, the Kurt Warner of romantic comedies. The 1978 hit film is the only football movie ever nominated for a best-picture Oscar, but it was originally going to be a boxing film starring Muhammad Ali.

The plan was to launch the Hollywood career of the champ with a remake of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" and its tale of a pugilist who dies before his time and returns to Earth for a rematch with fate, but Ali took a pass on the idea. Producer Warren Beatty stepped into the leading-man void but, because he had been a high school football star, he switched the setting.

Beatty also made his directorial debut and delivered a sweet and sprightly throwback to a Hollywood era of soft-focus romance. He plays a handsome Rams backup quarterback who sheds his mortal coil prematurely and is sent back to Earth in someone else's body but still wants to win the Super Bowl.

The more you explain the plot the daffier it sounds, but the secret to this game was the cast. Oscar nominations went to actors Beatty, Jack Warden as a crusty coach and Dyan Cannon as a conniving widow; just as memorable are Charles Grodin and the shimmering Julie Christie. Beatty scored a grand slam with Oscar nominations (earning nods as a director, writer, actor and producer) with his accidental football movie, joining Orson Welles as the only other person to accomplish that feat. Beatty did it again his next film, "Reds." -- Geoff Boucher

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