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'High Spirits' (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 19, 1988

"High Spirits" is one of those things that go bump at the box office -- especially if you have money in it. Shades of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," this peculiar comedy looks at love after death. It's a forced, psychic sex farce for Banquo-erotics that touches on everything from petting to the poltergasm.

As ghastly as it is ghostly, this slow, low comedy marries Daryl Hannah's haunting charms with Steve Guttenberg's guileless spirituality. Boy meets ghoul, boy loses ghoul, boy gets ghoul ... Guttenberg, as the romantic San Diegan Jack, hopes to rekindle his marriage to the narcissistic Sharon (Beverly D'Angelo) with a second honeymoon at Ireland's Castle Plunkett. But Sharon, with "all the warmth of a penguin on an iceberg," shrugs off his advances.

Two hundred years before, Mary Plunkett (Hannah), a gentle soul, was murdered in the castle's bridal suite by her husband, Martin Brogan (Liam Neeson). Every night since then, the couple have reenacted the tragedy. Jack, having thrown back some ancient whiskey, sees them and, enchanted by Mary's beauty, steps in front of Martin's knife, a selfless act that breaks the grim spell.

Mary explains that Martin flew into a rage when she refused his advances. He thought there was someone else, but actually it was his foot odor problem. Apparently death cures foot odor, because through a series of plot twists too tedious to detail, Sharon becomes infatuated with Martin. The result: wraith swapping.

Peter O'Toole costars as Peter Plunkett, the bungling tippler who runs the castle. O'Toole, a graduate of the Hormel school of acting, gives a preposterous but boring performance. The supporting actors look stunned, as if they had been smacked in the forehead with loose masonry from the parapets or seen something truly frightening. Maybe it was O'Toole overacting, maybe it was the rushes.

Writer-director Neil Jordan shows no knack for comedy, nor is he as kinky as he was on "Mona Lisa," and kinky is what is called for. But he does make good use of the wind machine. It must have been a dark and stormy night when this idea came to mind.

High Spirits is rated PG-13

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