MAKE NO mistake about Paramount's "Ghost." It's formula-packed business as usual. In fact, it's double-packed, triple-packed, more: There's the afterlife love affair between recently deceased Patrick Swayze and earthly girlfriend Demi Moore. There's the beyond-the-grave odd-buddy-buddying between Swayze and spiritualist Whoopi Goldberg. It's also a tearjerker, along the sappy lines of "Field of Dreams." It's a murder thriller . . . .
And strangely enough, it's not that bad.
Now, hold it right there. I refer you to the low-light critical tariff one must apply to Hollywood's summer fare. In this artistically devalued summer of schlockbusters ("Days of Total RoboCop III"), it means Jerry Zucker's movie (he made "Airplane!" and "Ruthless People") is surprisingly entertaining and goes along nicely with the theater's air conditioning.
"Ghost" starts off in the kind of cheesy way that Paramount seems so peculiarly proud of. We're subjected to True Love Moments between Swayze and Moore, as she tells him she loves him and he says, wait for it, "Ditto." (This is what screenwriters commonly refer to as a "hook" and is important for later.)
But as soon as the couple is confronted by a gunman, the thriller elements of the movie kick in and the movie gets . . . interesting. A lot of plot elements can't be given away, but suffice it to say, when Swayze's spirit comes back from the dead, he finds out Moore is in great danger.
Unable to be seen by the living, Swayze finds out he can communicate aurally with Goldberg, a common-variety spiritual charlatan who discovers to her ESP horror that she is the real thing. Swayze has to enlist Goldberg to thwart the dangerous mystery man and pass the amorous word on to Moore -- words like "ditto," for instance.
Along the way, Swayze also learns, with the help of subway-haunting spirit Vincent ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") Schiavelli, that ghosts can concentrate their psychic power into moving physical objects: making objects fly around the room, slapping bad guys around, that sort of thing.
Only in the leanest of movie-acting years would Swayze or Moore ever find themselves clutching Oscars, but they're very competent performers, certainly good enough to get through this mystery plot (decently scripted by Bruce Joel Rubin) without getting in your way. The best screen work comes from Goldberg, who puts spiritual oomph into an otherwise strained tea-reading role. Since her memorable performance in "The Color Purple," she's been mired in macho formula. But this movie, though it's still studio-ready stuff, may augur well for her future.
GHOST (PG-13) -- Area theaters.