An old-fashioned fantasy shot through with sentiment, "Ghost" moves through genres as readily as a phantom through castle walls. This heart-shaped thriller, relieved with farce and spectral effects, addresses the grief of parting and the mourning after -- on both sides of the veil.
The cast is as eclectic as the movie's moods, with Patrick Swayze, the phantom hunk, teaming up with Whoopi Goldberg, a storefront psychic, to communicate with Demi Moore, his endangered former lover. Three losers of late, the actors succeed quite nicely in unifying the movie's multiple personalities, its ricocheting screenplay.
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin of "Brainstorm," the story recalls last year's "Always," except it's much more emotionally honest: A man who can't say "I love you" to the woman who makes his heart sing suddenly can't make her hear or see him. Sam Wheat (Swayze), a well-built investment banker, and his lovely artist girlfriend, Molly Jensen (Moore), have just moved into a fabulous TriBeCa loft. They've never been happier, and then Sam is gunned down on a New York street and his spirit separates from his body.
Unable to comfort or communicate with Molly, the bewildered ghost contacts Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg), a charlatan amazed that her powers have, in fact, become genuine. When he learns that Molly's life is threatened, Sam pesters Oda Mae -- by singing "I'm Henry the Eighth, I am ..." -- till she agrees to speak to the grief-stricken woman. And as if overtaken by a tiny tornado, the supernatural valentine spins off into a Whoopified buddy action adventure.
It's not the coarse machismo that Goldberg served up in "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and the rest of her tomboy movies, but a robust, gold-hearted performance. Oda Mae, a scam artist, is transformed, albeit grudgingly, through helping out the odd couple. In a scene that falls somewhere between endearing and uneasy, the psychic even lets Sam possess her so that he can touch Molly, weeping and trembling, one last time.
"Ghost," which is directed by spoofmeister Jerry Zucker, sometimes verges on the laughable, as when bad guys are sucked into hell through the magic of bad animation. The wonder is that it doesn't falter more often, given that Zucker lists "Airplane!," "Ruthless People" and "Naked Gun" among his chief credits. While he doesn't have a deft touch for love scenes, many of the movie's moments -- particularly Moore's -- play as tenderly as sad caresses.
Unlike "Ghost Dad" and other cousins, this picture seems strongly contemporary, springing as it does from an act of street violence. In the summer of mayhem, it seems only right that at least one "Ghost" should come along. (The Hereafter must be a crowded place with all the victims of "Total Recall," "RoboCop 2" and "Die Harder" gathering there.) "Ghost" is an action thriller from the dispatched victim's point of view. How does it feel to wake an immaterial man in a material world? How do you walk through walls, rattle chains, say goodbye to the one you'll miss most?