Christopher Landon has a new movie out on Netflix!
It took me a second to place the name when I first heard this, but Christopher Landon is behind some absolutely great flicks. Disturbia. Some of the decent Paranormal Activity movies before the franchise went too far up its own bottom. Freaky. And Happy Death Day! I love Happy Death Day!
Once I placed all of those with the name, I was excited to check out one of the newer Netflix offerings this year: We Have A Ghost, starring David Harbour, Anthony Mackie, and Tig Notaru. There are also lesser knows like Isabella Russo and Jahi Di’Allo Winston in starring roles (particularly the latter as Kevin, the lead of the movie).
The premise of the flick is that Kevin’s family moves into a long-forgotten and abandoned haunted house. We learn through some exposition that moving is kind of a signature of their lives, as dad (Mackie) is constantly packing them up for “fresh starts” every time his schemes to make money get him run out of town.
That’s something I had a hard time reconciling in the early going: Captain America is a JERK for most of this flick. I’m used to really enjoying Mackie in roles, but here he is… well, he’s not evil or abusive or anything. But you can tell he is a bad dad who is too tied up in his own stuff to really know or care about what’s best for his family. It gets brushed off, but he’s not a great husband, either. He ignores his wife as readily as his kids, and he consistently has an attitude with her, as well.
Kevin meets and befriends the neighbor, Joy, who seems to be into him, but he is too shy to do much about it. She, too, has a strained relationship with her father and is looking for a kindred spirit. Soon after, he finds himself in his attic to sing to himself and try to relax… when the titular ghost pops up to scare him off!
Instead of being frightened, Kevin and the ghost–called Ernest due to the bowling shirt he wears–strike up a friendship. The whole family ends up discovering Ernest’s presence, and while Kevin (along with Joy) wants to help his new friend rediscover his past (Ernest is amnesiac), dad and Kevin’s brother Fulton decide to use Ernest to finally make their fortune.
The movie has to do quite a few gymnastics to reach its runtime of 2:07, and there are several plot elements thrown in along the way.
A lot of plot elements.
Probably too many plot elements.
And over the course of two-plus hours, the flick races through tonal shifts. It starts as a comedy, hits a second act action stride, then finishes up with some sentimentality and character growth. I’m typically a big fan of movies that can juggle tones… if they can do it successfully. Hell, Landon has shown he is more than capable of doing just that with Happy Death Day and Freaky.
So how does We Have A Ghost manage?
TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS
+David Harbour’s Ernest can not speak, only uttering one word the whole movie when he has a particularly powerful flashback. So the veteran actor is tasked with starring in a two-hour film and not getting to vocalize his emotions. And he does it all admirably! Facial reactions that range from the subtle to the comically exaggerated are the order of the day, and in the hands (cheekbones?) of a different performer, they might grow gimmicky quickly. But Harbour is charming and relatable as Ernest. He’s just so easy to root for, and you really feel the pain his character is going through as he finds out who he really was in life.
Additionally, he does a great job creating chemistry with Di’Allo Winston. With Kevin carrying the vocal narrative and Ernest building the story on a physical front, the heart of the tale really does shine through. When the two of them are on screen together, We Have A Ghost is at its strongest.
+Anthony Mackie gets one stand-out moment in the third act to bring resolution to his character arc. Like I said: he’s not a BAD GUY, so it’s not quite a face turn. But he is wildly selfish and impatient, and there is a moment where that fact hits him right in the face. He shares some dialogue with Kevin where he admits to all of his faults and sees the problems he has caused. This could all be maudlin–it should be–but the sincerity of the moment is so real. When the father tells his son that the latter grew up to be a genuinely great man in spite of the former, it hits hard.
There’s no follow up hug. Not even a “thank you” from Kevin. Dad’s realization and admission hangs there as he leaves his mourning son alone in the attic. For me, it was the best moment of the film.
-I alluded to this earlier, but this movie has far too much going on. There are two distinct plots–one involving an evil government ghostbusting organization, and one involving Ernest’s revelations about who he is (and the fake-outs that add some extra conflict) that each should be the centerpiece of the flick. But it felt like Landon couldn’t decide, so he left them both in. This led to one getting horribly shortchanged, and the other feeling like a letdown that shied away from doing something more impactful.
There is a nice budding romance between Kevin and Joy that also feels like not enough attention is paid to it because the movie has too many irons in the fire… so plots gotta get resolved at the expense of some character building. With better editing, there is a quite good movie here, but no one came in and told Landon what to trim to add better focus.
-For a Christopher Landon movie, this is frustratingly unfunny. It tries to be! But it never lands. That’s an area where gagging David Harbour really hurt because he usually has some brilliant comedic delivery.
And nowhere is the movie LESS funny when it wants to be than during a pointless segment starring Jennifer Coolidge as a television medium. The bit drags on and on, there’s no payoff to it, and nothing changes if this had been left on the editing room floor where it belonged.
We Have A Ghost is the phantom of a solid flick too bogged down in the chains with which it is cursed. There’s so much promise–and you can see it shining through in the best moments! Like when Kevin, Joy, and Ernest share a hotel room. But then everything gets covered over in bad jokes about social media or mind-numbing scenes about a TV medium or the director’s inability to decide on which of two main stories to follow. So the movie itself is stuck between worlds and trying to find it way.