Synopsis: Finding a ghost named Ernest haunting their new home turns Kevin’s family into overnight social media sensations. But when Kevin and Ernest investigate the mystery of Ernest’s past, they become a target of the CIA.
Stars: David Harbour, Jahi Winston, Tig Notaro, Erica Ash, Jennifer Coolidge, Anthony Mackie, Faith Ford, Niles Fitch, Isabella Russo, Steve Coulter
Director: Christopher Landon
Running Length: 126 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Growing up, there were “movie theater” movies and “mall” movies. Movie theater movies were the ones that had a parking lot you had to hunt for a space for, bundle up (this was MN remember?) to and from your car, and sometimes have to wait outside in line to get your ticket. You would go to Mall movies sometimes on a whim between shopping at Spencer Gifts and likely after you gobbled down a calzone from Sbarro. When you left a Mall movie, you’d get swept right back up into the buzz of the shoppers, often easily forgetting what you just saw. Not necessarily the movie’s fault, but that’s why you chose a silly comedy or goofy horror film to see because it wouldn’t matter much by the time 90 minutes were over.
We Have a Ghost is a big-time Mall movie. It aims a bullseye at the heart of the nostalgia fans still clutching onto their Goonies T-shirts and Ghostbusters cartoon sleeping bags and doesn’t apologize. Though it doesn’t ever rise to the level of those classics, it makes a decent play for your attention over its too-long-running time by employing a lot of bells and whistles to keep your focus squarely on what it deems most important. Logic isn’t often welcome at this good-natured table, but then again, when has that stopped us from enjoying a harmless distraction in the doldrums of a February winter?
The Presley Family doesn’t know much about the rickety house they have purchased, only that they got a sweet deal on it, and they need it to start over again after dad Frank (Anthony Mackie, The Woman in the Window) lost their money in a pyramid scheme. Of course, we know from the opening shot that the previous tenants were sent running out in the middle of the night, screaming their heads off, running from some unseen entity that proceeded to shut the front door and turn the upstairs light off. It doesn’t take long for this apparition (David Harbour, Hellboy) to make himself similarly visible to sensitive youngest son Kevin (Jahi Winston, The Dead Don’t Die). Still, he’s seen enough not to let the transparent visage of a balding man in a bowling shirt scare him.
The ghost, Ernest, can’t speak but can reach out and touch anyone he wishes, a power he uses sparingly but effectively. It’s eventually how the rest of the family comes to know him as well, with Frank attempting to monetize the haunted nature of their house, attracting the attention of ghost hunters, shoddy psychics (Jennifer Coolidge, Shotgun Wedding, in a glorified cameo), and a disgraced former CIA agent (Tig Notaro, Your Place or Mine) still desperate to prove the existence of spiritual entities. Of course, the real story is how Ernest became a ghost in the first place, and that’s when the adventure begins.
We Have a Ghost has that same awkward structure of those YA films we all grew up with in the 80s and early 90s in that it introduces one story but, around the halfway mark, morphs into something different. I won’t say precisely how it does this, but it feels like two markedly different features spliced into one. I liked them both in their respective halves, but I am not entirely sure they are successful as one completed film. In doing this, director Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day) essentially short-shrifts the big picture of both tales, sidelining most supporting players. It’s good that Winston and Harbour play so well together, with Harbour again showing impressive range with a predominantly silent character.
Running over two hours, the film drags during the middle portion, where it should be accelerating. The Coolidge section, while always welcome to see the actress, doesn’t add anything to the action but curdles like the filler it is. The character is there for another storyline to advance, but more efficient writing could have gotten that plot point where it needed to be without taking up more time. That Coolidge never returns is disappointing because if you’re going to use the actress, get your money’s worth at least.
Like most Mall movies, We Have a Ghost is bound to vanish from your mind in the same amount of time it would have taken you to push through the crowds on the escalator down to the first floor, past the pet store (oh cute, look at that dog!), across the promenade from Suncoast Pictures (dig that blue VHS of The Firm!) and out to the Camel Parking Lot (CameLot for newbies)…wait…what were we talking about?