The moment Chloe Grace Moretz's voice-over narration dredges up the moldy philosophical chestnut, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans," you know this story won't be breaking any new ground in teens-confronting-death movies.
The invulnerability of adolescence suddenly shaken by the cold awareness of mortality has been effectively rendered earlier this year in "The Fault in Our Stars."
"If I Stay"★ ★
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley, Stacy Keach, Joshua Leonard, Mireille Enos
Directed by: R.J. Cutler
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for sexual situations. 106 minutes
"If I Stay," based on Gayle Forman's 2009 best-seller, turns a comatose teen's out-of-body experience into such a bland and pedestrian experience, it's out-of-mind soon after the closing credits.
Moretz plays Mia Hall, a quiet and unassuming cello player who lives in Oregon with her parents (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos), hipsters yearning for their days of youth, pop music and rebellion.
Even though her parents would probably prefer her to play something sexier, say, an electric guitar, Mia has become so skilled at the cello that she has a real shot at being accepted by Juilliard.
What if she doesn't make it? But what if she does?
How will that affect her blossoming relationship with her dark and slightly mysterious boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley), who appears to be on his way to rock stardom with his fellow band members?
Before a voice-over narrator can say, "If you want to make God laugh, plan something," Mia wakes up in the snow next to a horrible car accident. And she sees herself, unconscious, being loaded into an ambulance.
She's not dead. Like the lovable tyke in "Heaven is Real," Mia occupies a place between the physical world and the spiritual one.
She hops into the ambulance with herself and shoots off to the hospital, where she wanders through the halls and rooms, unencumbered by the fact that she cannot open doors, pick things up or be heard.
But she can eavesdrop on everyone's conversations while frequently intrusive flashbacks fill in history.
We see how little Mia (Gabrielle Cerys Haslett) gravitates toward the classics and the cello, much to the chagrin of her punkrocking father who gave up a music career to raise his daughter.
We get the back story of how Mia met Adam, and how their differences (especially in musical tastes) place a speed bump in their road to happiness as a couple.
Forman's novel has been adapted into a screenplay by Shauna Cross, who worked wonders translating the book "He's Just Not That Into You" into a suitable script.
Here, every scene in "If I Stay" seems weighed down by Cross' inability to break free from the book (hence the heavy-handed, commenting-on-the-obvious voice-overs) and recreate this story for the visual medium of film.
This movie marks the directorial feature film debut of documentary maker R.J. Cutler, who approaches "If I Stay" with a distanced attitude that translates into a dramatically flatlined romance between Mia and Adam, who mostly act as if they could be siblings working out family problems.
(A coy and dispassionately tasteful sexual encounter would contradict this, of course.)
That leaves the older, more experienced cast members, especially Stacy Keach as Mia's heartsick grandfather, to perform the movie's dramatic heavy lifting.
"Sometimes you make choices in life," Mia's droning narrator informs us. "Sometimes, choices make you!"
A more relevant quote could have been borrowed from Steve Jobs: "Almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."