Directed by Christopher Landon | Written by Landon, based on the short story Earnest by Geoff Manaugh | 126 min | ▲▲△△△ | Netflix
I came of age as a movie lover in the 1980s, an era when the horror comedy really took hold. But for every Beetlejuice, Lost Boys, or Ghostbusters there was a Mr Vampire, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, and Saturday The 14th.
You can feel the affection in We Have A Ghost for that time in the Hollywood pantheon, but while it doesn’t deserve to be counted amongst the worst it’s nowhere near the best, either.
We’re introduced to the slightly troubled Presley clan who, apparently broke, still can find the funds to buy an enormous, old pile — I mean, enormous, even for old American houses that feature in movies. It’s a sweet deal for reasons we can already piece together by the movie’s title.
The Presleys are Frank and Melanie (Anthony Mackie and Erica Ash) and teen brothers Fulton (Niles Fitch) and Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston). Kevin is the bookish, younger brother who plays guitar and has a fondness for Creedence — which, I’m sorry, strikes me as a little weird for a Gen Z African-American kid, especially as it’s entirely unexplained. A few plot holes, however, are the order of the day.
Kevin meets Earnest (David Harbour with a terrible comb-over), the ghost haunting their attic. Turns out Earnest is a nice ghost. He’s entirely silent but for the traditional ghoulish moaning and groaning. But he’s stuck — he doesn’t have any memories of who he was in life. Kevin shoots a video of Earnest on his phone, and when Fulton and Frank get wind of this they post it, and before long Earnest is a viral sensation.
For awhile the movie becomes about father Frank’s effort to turn Earnest into a moneymaker for the family, which conflict with Kevin’s efforts to figure out Earnest’s origins with the help of Joy (Isabella Russo), his classmate, neighbour, and romantic prospect.
Those young actors are winning, Harbour brings his usual warmth even in a role where he has nothing to say, and support from Jennifer Coolidge and Tig Notaro is welcome though we don’t get enough of them.
The real problem here is the script isn’t nearly tight enough, funny enough, or scary enough to succeed in any of the genres it overlaps. Remember those great movies from the 1980s… they were genuinely frightening in places, and also hilarious. They pushed the bounds of good taste. This doesn’t push anything but the audience’s patience: the pacing is entirely baggy — this is a long-ass movie that feels every minute of it. It also includes a mid-movie car chase sequence that might be the worst edited of its kind I can remember ever seeing.
But the biggest mistake the movie makes is failing to really invest us in any of the key relationships, not between father and son or between teenager and ghost. It makes it hard to care about any of it or any of them.