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Ghost
1990 - PG-13 - 128 Mins.
Director: Jerry Zucker
Producer: Lisa Weinstein
Written By: Bruce Joel Rubin
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, Stanley Lawrence
Review by: John Ulmer
   

No, it's not Patrick with another man--it's Demi Moore!
It's hard for me to truly understand why a film such as "Ghost" appeals to my inner moviegoer so very much. Here's a film so full of clichés and tired ideas that somehow--miraculously--manage to stay fresh, presenting us with a great love story amidst an intriguing backdrop of murder and revenge. The only problem with the movie is Demi Moore's haircut, but that's an entirely different matter.

The story is classic: Sam (Patrick Swayze) is a successful accountant earning the big bucks in the big city. He's got it all: A great job, a great apartment, a great girlfriend to share it with, and an overall great life. Curled up in bed with his girl, Molly (Demi Moore), he watches a news program stating that an airplane crashed and everyone aboard the aircraft died. "Just imagine," he says. "In an instant--just like that. Bam." He is, of course, referring to the instantaneity of death.

The irony in the situation is that we all know the same thing is about to happen to him, and indeed it does, when Sam is shot dead in front of Molly by a mysterious stranger who runs off into the night. Sam dies immediately, and it takes us a few moments to realize this--since we continue to see him run after the killer. It's then that it dawns on us: it's his ghost.

Unable to make contact with the living, Sam follows Molly for weeks after his death. (This is where that "SNL" skit came in--"Oh, Molly, don't do that, it's disgusting! There's a tissue right across the room!" I've got a bit more info on that later on.) However, Sam soon discovers that his old friend and fellow accountant (Tony Goldwyn) had hired a man to kill Sam because he had seen evidence of money laundering in an account.

In order to warn Molly of possible danger, Sam enlists the help of a psychic hoax (Whoopi Goldberg) to pay a visit to Molly and tell her the truth about everything. "Go away!" she yells as Sam taunts her with obnoxious songs until she agrees to tag along and go visit his old girlfriend.

It's useless to delve any deeper into the plot, since it's all pretty predictable. But in all honesty, it's a fun ride getting to the end. This is a film that uses a tried-and-true formula of good vs. evil to achieve its goals. It's as old as the days and as true as nothing. I'm reminded of that speech about principles by Donald Kaufman in "Adaptation": "This works, and it has through all recorded time." No doubt he had "Ghost" in mind when he said that. (I'm just joking.)

I do like the way "Ghost" uses its ideas of a ghost coming back to haunt his killer in a way different than most films, though. This ghost's intentions aren't to scare away people in a haunted mansion, but rather to reach out and touch the woman he once loved, and then--finally--to keep her from harm by seeking revenge on the baddies who plotted against him.

I like the way one of the villains gets trapped in a bathroom and glances at a steamy window. The word, "Boo" suddenly appears as if someone was writing it, and with a scream the criminal flees the room and runs out into the street outside.

If this were a horror film, the window gag might creep us out a bit and give us a chill or two. But "Ghost" uses the old ghost clichés--haunting people, making writing appear on windows, etc.--and makes us re-think them. Maybe that bartender from "The Shining" wasn't just a creepy old ghost. Maybe he was just having a bit of fun with Jack.

Or...maybe not.

That's where the film succeeds, I think: in its ideas, even if they have been done before. I also enjoyed Patrick Swayze's performance. Swayze is often ridiculed as an actor, and this caused him to sink back into the depths of unemployment for a number of years--now appearing in co-star roles and low-budget films--but I think he's a good actor with a likable on-screen personality. And he doesn't take himself too seriously, which is always a good thing. (Anybody see that Hans and Franz skit on "Saturday Night Live" about ten years ago? Utterly hilarious. How about the "Ghost" parody?)

There's something altogether sweet and likable about "Ghost" that has persevered throughout the years. It was a box office smash when it was released in 1990, and it continues to impress viewers to this day. How many times have you seen that famous scene where the two lovers craft pottery and get their hands all messy in a sensual, erotic manner spoofed before? Surely an uncountable number of times. It's just one of those movies that has infiltrated culture. When the rubber hits the road, all the box office analysts and strong marketing in the world put together can't always foresee smash hits. Since when was "Speed" going to be the highest grossing film of 1994? Since when was "Shrek" going to be an extraordinary success? Since when was "The Matrix" going to be the biggest film of 1999? Since when was "The Terminator" going to become the low-budget indie film that inspired a sequel that grossed an unexpected $500 million + ?

"Ghost" is one of those movies.

Okay, so Whoopi Goldberg didn't deserve the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Everyone knows it was just because the Academy was in a certain mood that year, where it felt that it had to give its appreciation to the black community of filmmakers, but it's a done deal and the movie is still a good love story, regardless of whether or not one of its actresses didn't deserve an award for her work. (On a sidenote, Goldberg's performance is quite fun--still, no worthy Oscar material, I soundly agree.)

I must confess with a bit of shame that it is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures--the type of movie that puts me in a good mood every time I watch it, and a movie with an ending that makes my throat choke every time I see it. The ending really is perfect, and if the movie had resorted to a silly "I came back from the dead!" bit, my high opinion of the film would surely be somewhat less enthusastic than what it is today.

You can't always say that many movies are really beautiful love stories, but here's one.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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