A film review by Craig J. Koban April 28, 2023

GHOSTED j

2023, PG-13, 116 mins.

Ana de Armas as Sadie  /  Chris Evans as Cole Riggan  /  Adrien Brody as Leveque  /  Mike Moh as Wagner  /  Amy Sedaris as Mom  /  Tim Blake Nelson as Borislov  /  Tate Donovan as Dad  /  Lizze Broadway as Mattie  /  Marwan Kenzari as Marco  /  Anna Deavere Smith as Claudia Yates  /  Mustafa Shakir as Monte Jackson  /  Tiya Sircar as Patti

Directed by Dexter Fletcher  /  Written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers

ORIGINAL FILM

Within the first three minutes of the new romantic spy comedy GHOSTED - an Apple Original Film -  one character is using Apple CarPlay and enjoying its hands-free features while commuting.  A minute-plus later and a different character is using Apple AirTags to find a missing item...via his iPhone.    

This is the most Apple film that Apple has ever Appled.  

Hyper aggressive and beyond obvious product placement in its early stages aside, there are an unending number of other problems with GHOSTED, which is a staggeringly bad genre offering considering the proven talent in front of and behind the camera.  It stars the eminently likeable and insanely good looking Chris Evan and Ana de Armas, is directed by Dexter Fletcher (who made a big splash with the Elton John biopic ROCKETMAN a few years ago) and comes from the combined screenwriting talents of the pair that wrote the DEADPOOL films and another pair that penned the MCU produced SPIDER-MAN films.  On paper, GHOSTED should have offered up a good and enjoyable time for viewers...or...hell...even served as a passable time waster.  

Unfortunately, the resulting film is massively strained by a stunning lack of tangible chemistry between its two stars and an overall screenplay (remember...the product of four people) that is such a hopelessly inept, lazy, and unoriginal pastiche of so many other countless spy comedies that it does little - if anything - to separate itself in any way from an already heavily crowded genre pack.  Imagine an unholy regurgitated cocktail of TRUE LIES, MR. AND MRS. SMITH, and KNIGHT AND DAY (just to name a few), but with next-to-no wit or genuine thrills and you have GHOSTED. 

I will give this film full credit for one thing, though.  

It might be the very first spy comedy thriller in history that has a meet-cute between a CIA operative and a farmer arguing over cactuses.   

I'm not making this up.   

The agriculturalist in question is Cole (Evans), who - as the film opens - is peddling his product at a local farmer's market.  He locks eyes with the very easy on the eyes Sadie (de Armas), and the sexual tension between the pair is enough to get many people (throughout the course of this film) to plead with them to "GET A ROOM!"  Sarcasm aside, Cole is a bit defensive minded with her when it comes to the sustainability of the plants she's looking at (yeah, telling a woman that she's wrong upon meeting her is not the best way to score with any woman, let alone Ana de Armas), but as she angrily walks away he realizes his blunder and chases her down to ask her out.  Miraculously, she agrees right there on the spot, which leads to Cole taking her on a tour of surrounding Washington, D.C., and they engage in small talk about THE EXORCIST (they visit the EXORCIST stairs in Georgetown) and then partake in some late night karaoke (one of the biggest clichés of modern romcoms is having opposites come together via sing-offs in bars).  Eventually, the two hook up in bed later that night and she bids him good-bye in the morning.  Cole tells his parents (Tate Donovan and Amy Sedaris, saddled with one-note supporting parent roles) that Sadie could in fact be the one and eagerly awaits her reaching back out to him.   

 

 

Here's the thing, though: she doesn't, even after he sends her an embarrassing number of texts over the next several days that appear to be ignored by her.  In short, she has completely disappeared from his life, leaving him feeling dejected and hurt.  However, through a scripting scenario far too convenient, he discovers that he can track her whereabouts via Apple AirTags (his inhaler has one on it and ended up in her purse).  Online tracking indicates that Sadie is in London, so Cole - despite coming off as more than a bit stalkerish - decides to hop on the first plane and journey all the way to England to hook back up with his dream girl.  Upon arriving, Cole is attacked and abducted by some mysterious assailants who think that he is "The Taxman," a shadowy underworld figure that has the passcode to a top secret and all-powerful bioweapon device that could end the world.  Because of even more ultra convenient scripting, he's rescued very easily by a single masked hero that makes short and easy work of his captors and - you got it! - she's revealed to be - gasp! - Sadie, who's actually - double gasp! - a clandestine CIA agent in pursuit of this ultimate weapon and must ensure that it doesn't fall into the hands of a dreadful French arms dealer, Leveque (a moustache twirling Adrien Brody, sporting an embarrassing non-specific European accent).  On top of trying to save the free world, Sadie now has to go into protection mode with Cole in tow.

One thing that's alarmingly distracting in GHOSTED is how its script from (again, have to emphasize this) four writers (Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers) goes out of its way to make Cole the agreeable everyman schlub that got in the middle of a high pressure cooker of a situation, but because  hunky Captain America himself is cast as him he doesn't really come off as an everyman, sclubby, farmer type.  That, and Cole kind of is...well...clingy and creepy in equal measure. He has a one-night stand with a limitlessly attractive woman and then bombards her with a litany of texts (did this man ever see SWINGERS?).  Keep in mind, he doesn't think it's weird, because he doesn't count his many emoji texts as actual texts.  The title of this film, for all intents and purposes, stems from the fact that this down-on-his luck loser is so pathologically fixated with this woman ghosting him that he goes on the obsessive offensive (messaging her constantly and then - Jesus! - flying to London to surprise the woman that's not replying to him).  On a normal plane of existence, no ordinarily sane man would do what Cole does in the early course of this film, but he does, and when he arrives in London, he systematically gets thrown into a dangerous espionage world that Sadie lives in daily.  As an added kick to the Cole's babymakers - and after rescuing him - she admits that she was probably going to reach out to him when she returned stateside, but decided not to because of his texts.  

Can you blame her?   

I don't fully expect films like this to operate in realistic terms, and - to be fair - they can often win me over if the lead actors are affable enough and generate ample sustained chemistry.  Despite playing off of one another (to various degrees) in the past in films like KNIVES OUT and the spy-themed THE GRAY MAN, Evans and de Armas are simply not a good pair. Combined on screen, they're both hot enough to (as Frank Drebin might say) melt a cheese sandwich from across the room, but on a level of charisma and forging a bond in the film, these two actors are nonsensically mismatched.  Because both served as producers here, I'm sure that Evans and de Armas (probably friends in real life) thought it would be fun to work together again, but they just don't...click...at all in GHOSTED, even when the screenplay (did I tell you already it's from four writers?) offers up such banal cookie-cutter dialogue and would-be hilarious one-liners.  Evans is fully capable of playing lovable protagonists in his sleep and is a delightful performer, but he's saddled with such wretched material on the page that he rarely makes use of his bona fide talents.  And de Armas herself - who's capable of delivering fine performances (see KNIVES OUT and even her committed performance in the otherwise offensively terrible BLONDE from last year), but she's uncharacteristically wooden as her spy hero.  De Armas displays less personality as Sadie during this entire film than she did in her brief cameo as an sassy rookie undercover agent in NO TIME TO DIE.  That's telling.

What we're left with now is either the villains or the action taking center stage to make up for the aforementioned faults, but GHOSTED fumbles mightily on the antagonist front.  While watching Brody's off-putting and stilted work as his French arms dealer, I was kind of left scratching my head and reflecting that - holy crap! - this guy once won an Oscar.  Leveque is more cartoonishly silly than truly unnerving or scary.  There's one other potentially frightening baddie introduced in Tim Blake Nelson's torturer that threatens the captured Cole (at one point) with giant killer hornets, but that actor appears and then completely disappears, never to be seen again.  And - wow! - Dexter Fletcher brought so much visual innovation and panache to ROCKETMAN, which was one of the more entertaining musical biopics of the last several years, but he seems mindlessly adrift when it comes to the requisite action scenes that really needed to make GHOSTED.  Beyond his painful attempts to successfully marry odd couple romcom theatrics to the spy thriller template (this film ain't funny or exhilarating), so many of the would-be propulsive action scenes are needlessly peppered with rock/pop tunes blaring on the soundtrack to artificially drum up intensity.  The film has one competently rendered sequence - a massive chase involving Sadie and Cole escaping in a glitter-covered bus through the rugged and mountainous Pakistan countryside - but GHOSTED, on the whole, simply doesn't hold a candle to the exceedingly high pedigree that the Bond or MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchises have maintained in the last several years.   

And when all else completely fails, Fletcher and company utterly assault viewers with some of the most pathetically forced and distracting "surprise" cameos that I've ever experienced in a film before (SPOILER ALERT - Hey look!  It's former CAPTAIN AMERICA/MCU actors Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie appearing in blink-or-you'll-miss-them cameos as assassins...or DEADPOOL himself, Ryan Reynolds, playing a one-eyed one later in the film).  MCU fan servicing notwithstanding, these cameos took me immediately out of the film, even more so than what was transpiring beforehand.  Sometimes, I find myself less harsh on films that have vastly ambitious aims, but a lack of available resources to see them through versus films that have massive budgets, established stars, writers, and directors that simply have no vision or ambition whatsoever in terms of delivering a worthwhile product.  GHOSTED is an innovation black hole.  Not all films of its ilk have to daringly reinvent the wheel, but everything here is so achingly perfunctory and paint-by-number in terms of approach and execution.  As a comedy, it's a laugh-free dead zone.  As a romance, it never sizzles.  As a globetrotting espionage action thriller, it's inordinately dull. GHOSTED is a triple threat offender, in this regard. 

And note to love-sick men out there: 

(1) Emoji texts to women do count as texts and (2) try not to AirTag stalk women.  It's just icky.  

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