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Friendy Ghost is Spoof, Not Spook

Moore, Swayze, and Goldberg Shadows of Thespians

By Kelly A.E. Mason

The promotional material for the greatly publicized Ghost calls the movie startling. Startling maybe if you've never seen sap running from the trees in springtime. The subtitle for the movie is "Believe," but you're more likely to believe peace breaking out in the Middle East than most of this peripatetic plot.

But enough witticisms--I'm a critic, so the first thing I should do is tell you, in gory detail, everything that was wrong with the film. I will, in just a minute, and the list will be pretty long, too. There was enough wrong with the film that at the final, supposedly dramatic ending, most of the audience was guffawing instead of sobbing. But it takes a lot of chutzpah to do things as badly as the cast and crew of this movie does, and I have to admit that, in a perverse way, I respect that. And, aesthetic sensibilities be damned, I liked seeing Ghost, and after a few, I might even see it again.

Most of the mystery of this movie lies in its attraction rather than its plot. The movie opens with yuppie couple Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) and Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) moving into one of those ridiculously large New York apartments that only people in movies can afford. They're happy, after their fashion--late at night, when Molly can't sleep, she shapes clay phallic symbols on her pottery wheel and Sam wakes up and helps her. Despite the fact his hands are caked with clay, he rubs her thighs. She gets all hot and bothered, and they dance to a great oldie playing on their living room jukebox. Then they kiss, slow and long, before falling on the couch to pursue sweeter pleasures.

This all takes place before Sam is killed by someone's--duh duh duh dumb--hired hand in what would seem to be your garden variety mugging. Not to worry--Sam's death does not appreciably cut Swayze's time on screen. It does however, cut down on his wardrobe. Swayze wears the same outfit when he meets the only person who can hear him, psychic Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg); when he has has Oda Mae contact Molly, and sting the man who hire his killer; when, finally, predictably, he saves Molly's life.

There is no dialogue to speak of in the movie. Most of the lines are short, and uninspired stuff like, "You're dead, Sam," and "Sam's dead, Molly." The more ambitious moments, as when Sam says, "It's amazing, Molly--the love you have inside, you take it with you," fall flat, especially when closed by lines like, "See you later."

There is no real acting, either. Moore's performance consists largely of tilting her pretty chin up and looking bewildered and tilting her chin up and looking weepy. Swayze knits his brow a lot. And Goldberg, well, she's Goldberg. She makes funny faces, complains frequently, and is warm-hearted and engaging. And completely out of place in a mystery thriller.

But it's hard to say what this movie is. It isn't high drama--the only actor displaying any great range is newcomer Tony Goldwyn as Sam's friend Carl Brunner. He looks and acts like a sinister Eddie Haskell. He sweats and panics; he stammers and looks wounded; he seems solicitous, seductive, then murderous. He handles his split-second emotional shifts well, though he shouldn't have to handle them at all.

The remarkable unevenness of the film is the fault of director Jerry Zucker. Zucker just had too much success with his smash-hit comedy Airplane, and now he tries to make everything funny. This movie admittedly should have some light moments, but sometimes it seems giddy on helium. Ghost is often funny, but it is more often ludicrous.

The special effects are the most laughable feature. This is surprising because the F/X people are a remarkably qualified bunch, some having worked on mega-hits like Star Wars and Ghostbusters. But they could have used some ghostbusters on this set. The souls of the not-so-dearly departed in the movie are spirited away by annoying, ridiculous, and cartoonish little grim reapers, while the dear are called to the heavens by free-floating white Christmas lights. Many times blue screen outlines are visible, and Swayze, in motion, often looks like a laser-streaked rollerskater form the 1980 classic Xanadu.

The beautiful movie score by Maurice Jarre, a theme echoing the oldie on the jukebox, is the only romantic remnant amid the special effects and rubble. It makes us think that Molly and Sam are in love, and that, in the end, makes us endure the foolishness of their story.

This movie disregards so many rules of balance and sensibility that it incidentally winds up being innovative. Zucker et al create a spiffy, whimsical New York ghost community for Sam to dwell in, complete with a supernatural subway wacko.

But wackos and murderers aside, Ghost is a little like Caspar in that it doesn't have a mean bone in its body. This is a well-intentioned, often corny and misguided movie. If the hilarious mugshots of Oda Mae from her charlatan past don't make you laugh, the special effects will. Ghost is bad enough to be good, and sweet enough that you'll forgive its transgressions.

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