When you see a title like “We Have A Ghost,” you know exactly what kind of movie you’re going to get. It’ll be suitable for the whole family for sure. The cinematography, color palette, and quirky musical score, right from the very first frame, will signal “spooky” rather than “scary,” something more akin to “Goosebumps” than, say, “The Babadook.” You’re definitely going to get a lovable ghost who, among many other supernatural abilities, can walk through walls; a young protagonist with a kinship to that ghost, who helps him out in some significant way; a quirky family who has to learn to deal with the otherworldly intruder; some parent-child drama, featuring valuable life lessons that everyone will learn along the way. And this Netflix film does deliver all these things, and more… but also, less.

The story is simple enough. Sixteen-year-old Kevin befriends a ghost named Ernest in the attic of his new home. Rather than being frightened, his father Frank sees this as an opportunity for fame and fortune via social media. Upon learning that Ernest is trapped in the land of the living because of some unfinished business; Kevin he decides to find a way to free him. As he and his neighbor Joy start looking into the phantom’s mysterious past, they— and Ernest himself— suddenly find themselves targeted by a paranormal branch of the C.I.A.

Has its moments, but it’s not a film to die for

There’s a lot to enjoy in “We Have A Ghost,” particularly in the film’s first act. For one thing, it’s pretty funny, featuring quite a bit of easy, casual humor, mostly from the always appealing Anthony Mackie, who plays Kevin’s father Frank. David Harbour, as Ernest the ghost, is effective despite having almost no dialogue at all. Relative newcomer Jahi Di’Allo Winston holds his own as protagonist Kevin, and Isabella Russo (in her first big screen role) matches him scene for scene as his spunky friend Joy. And comedy legend Jennifer Coolidge, always a welcome sight on the big or small screen, practically steals the show as psychic Judy Romano in the movie’s most memorable sequence. Furthermore, the social media scenes— in which Ernest becomes a massive YouTube sensation— are incisive and believable, adding a clever layer of social commentary to what could have been a thin, simplistic plot.

Director Christopher Landon, who helmed the far superior “Freaky” in 2020, peppers the narrative with homages (and sometimes direct references) to films like “The Changeling” (the scary red ball) “Ghostbusters” (the ghost-capturing laser guns), “Men In Black” (the clandestine government agency), “It” (Ernest’s spider-like movement), and “Ghost” (the footage from, erm, the actual film “Ghost”). But strangely enough, the movie “We Have A Ghost” most closely recalls is “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.” The plots of both films are almost exactly the same: A lonely boy discovers a mysterious being with supernatural powers. They form a secret kinship. Although the boy’s family eventually learns of the existence of the strange creature, no one seems to understand the bond that the two alienated characters share— least of all the malevolent government forces that threaten to tear them apart.

Sadly, unlike that 1983 Steven Spielberg masterpiece, “We Have A Ghost” begins to unravel at around the halfway mark. As the movie expands its scope, the cinematic flaws begin piling up. It all starts out slowly, but eventually the niggling questions become impossible to avoid. (And speaking of avoidance, if you don’t want any spoilers you should stop reading now.)

Why, for example, when a camera crew comes to the haunted house to film the supernatural being, is everyone in the crew surprised when the ghost turns out to be— gasp!— scary? When escaping his legions of fans, why does Ernest, who can fly through the air and disappear at will, literally have to run to get away? When Kevin and Joy sneak Ernest out of the house, and the C.I.A. announces via news bulletins that the ghost has kidnapped the two teens, why do the police keep shooting at them on sight? How did Kevin, whose older brother Fulton (Niles Fitch) has to drive him to school every day, learn to handle a car like a professional getaway driver out of an Edgar Wright movie? Why does the ostensibly emotional climax involve a character we have no real connection to, played by an actor we’ve never seen in the film? And why, oh, why, would you put the brilliantly hilarious standup comic Tig Notaro in your movie and not give her anything funny to say?

The longer “We Have A Ghost” goes on— and it goes on for an unforgivable two hours and seven minutes— the less it holds together. I started out really enjoying the movie; by the third act, I just wanted it to end. (Much like Ernest must have felt about his captivity on this earthly plane.)


2 crowns: just about watchable

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