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Ghostdad Will Have You Die Laughing

By Stephen J. Newman

Once again, Bill Cosby takes a familiar story and puts his own creative spin on it. And once again, Cosby's fresh style does not fail to entertain and impress.

Ghostdad

Starring Bill Cosby

A Sidney Poitier film

At Copley Cinemas

He never works to please the lowest common denominator, but always operates from the highest common ground. Whether playing Noah on a bad day or spinning stories about his childhood friend, Fat Albert, Cosby knows what strings to pull to twist the usual forms into unexpected shapes.

Ghostdad uses the old formula of the man who, having died, makes a deal with the powers that be to return to Earth in order to take care of some unfinished business.

Bill Cosby plays an overworked widower on the brink of a promotion that will finally ensure a secure future for his children. Right before everything is finalized, though, he dies in a freak accident, his house mortgaged to the hilt and his family virtually destitute.

But because the promotion package would have included a large life insurance policy, Cosby's ghost sees a way to provide for his children. All he needs to do is convince the people he works for that he's still alive, at least until all the paperwork is signed. Once the promotion is officially approved, he can die safely.

Naturally, it's no easy task for a ghost to pretend to be a living, breathing human being. And to pass a life-insurance physical? This is one resourceful dead guy.

Meanwhile, he continues to feud with his oldest daughter Diane (Kimberly Russell) about her boyfriends. He also has to figure out a way to explain to his girlfriend why they can't see each other any more.

Not only is the theme familiar, but it reveals a fundamental quality of the human spirit--that of devotion.

Harvard Greek mythology guru Gregory Nagy, in his popular course on Homeric poetry, describes "the revenant"--the hero who returns from beyond the grave to accomplish his life-defining mission. Like Odysseus, the Ghostdad returns from the underworld to a greater understanding of the universe and, more importantly, to a more balanced existence.

Don't worry; the "life, universe, and everything" kind of stuff is subtle. This movie is not about philosophy.

Instead, it's an hour and 45 minutes of classic Cosby entertainment. He dances around. He scrunches up his face. He plays with cute little kids. He's terrific. Ghostdad at times seems like the Huxtables are putting in an appearance on the old Twilight Zone.

The special effects are superb. When the Ghostdad haunts the neighborhood brat he proves that an avenging angel still can have a good laugh. And the trip to the doctor's office shows some remarkable creativity without relying too heavily on computer animation and other techniques.

One thing the movie does rely on too heavily to advance the plot, however, is a silly little deus ex machina character named Sir Edith, played by Ian Bannan. Bannan does the best he can with his miserable role. The only bit of humor involved is that he has to be told over and over again that Edith is a girl's name. Har-de-har-har.

A nice touch is the Satan-worshipping cab driver (Raynor Scheine). He just oozes gross, and his face-slapping foolishness is so funny it could raise the dead. It's pleasantly surprising to hear someone shout, "O! Evil master, I am at your command!" in a Bill Cosby movie.

The kids are all just Cosby Show clones, but they serve their purpose well. They giggle, smile, cry, and look scared all on cue, and provide a good backdrop to Cosby's antics.

Don't expect Ghostdad to be a balanced movie. It shows off Cosby's talents, but doesn't really give any of the other characters independent lives of their own. That's all right, though, since Cosby is more than talented enough to carry the show alone.

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