In films such as 1995’s Casper and even 1988’s Beetlejuice, connective tissue exists between them as follows. A family moves into an old, cobwebbed-filled house they usually get at a steal of a price. This is only to find out that, well, somebody died there. After a few scare attempts, usually, the outcast child tries to help the ghosts achieve whatever their unfinished business is to get to the afterlife. This is the DNA writer/director Christopher Landon’s We Have A Ghost bases its playbook off of. It’s better to think of this paranormal comedy as a stew of ingredients – you have action, family drama, science fiction, a little romance, and a dash of heart.
The problem lies in so many themes being present; the meal doesn’t have a discernable taste. Based on Geoff Manaugh’s 2017 short story “Ernest,” We Have A Ghost has many to get out and a two-hour runtime to match – it often feels like if some things were trimmed, the film would be better for it. The Presley family moves to the Chicago suburbs to a house that the realtor nervously and anxiously sells them. Kevin (Jahi Winston) is unhappy about it, and there’s a considerable strain between him and his father, Frank (Anthony Mackie). There’s a brief scene where Kevin, a guitarist, argues with Frank about the guitar god status of Terry Kath versus Jimi Hendrix (nice nod for music buffs).
We are led to believe that this fresh start is just another one pushed by another of Frank’s investments petering out. Thus, Kevin, his older brother Fulton (Niles Fitch), and his mom Melanie (Erica Ash) are starting to feel the stress of it all. While walking around in the basement, Kevin meets a ghost named Ernest (David Harbour) – he’s wearing a bowling shirt, a little balding, and greets him as you would think a ghost would. Ernest’s “scary” bellowing is met by laughter from Kevin, and he records a video of the ordeal.
While Kevin doesn’t feel he can relate to anybody, he at least tries to talk to Ernest – there’s only one problem. Ernest can’t talk at all. He also cannot remember how he appeared in the house or about his death. Thus, Kevin makes it a mission to find this out. Once We Have A Ghost establishes its main story, it makes a lot of turns and detours in how to reach its conclusion. Frank finds out about the video and immediately uploads it to YouTube, which becomes a phenomenon in the Zack Braff/Ghost Adventures extended universe world.
There are funny social media cuts concerning “ghost rights” and “Ernest challenges.” When a video hits three million views in six seconds, Frank promptly says, “kiss my ass, PewDiePie” (get it, because it’s in tune with that world). It’s just another get-rich-quick scheme. Within all this, one of the best scenes surrounds the short inclusion of Jennifer Coolidge, who plays a telemarketer-type medium. Her character is subjected to the face-melting scares Ernest learns while watching Insidious with Kevin.
From then, Ghost quickly turns on a dime to car chase scenes and a fugitive-type plot. Kevin gets help from his next-door neighbor/potential love interest Joy (Isabella Russo) as they strive to discover what happened to Ernest. While they are doing this, Dr. Leslie Monroe (Tig Notaro) and CIA Deputy Director Schipley (Steve Coulter) are nipping at their heels because they see Ernest as a reason to re-open a CIA mission to study ghosts.
If this sounds like E.T., it almost is. Some of the concepts have been updated for us to relate to; however, there are just too many covering what makes this film great. We Have A Ghost operates best by examining its family dynamics and how the people within them fight to work inside them. The film is stocked with talent to achieve this. Mackie’s portrayal of Frank comes off as egotistical at first. However, the actor turns on a charm to show you he’s a father trying to make his sons proud. While David Harbour has little to no speaking parts within Ghost, he conveys a lot through facial expressions and mannerisms.
Winston is an empathetic and strong main protagonist – his character and Russo’s Joy both with a natural commonality of not being understood by their parents. Notaro adds flavor to her scenes. We Have A Ghost has all the makings to be a winner; in some cases, it is. There is just so much to sift through as to where the emotional punches don’t land as cleanly as they should.