Release Date: July 13th, 1990 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jerry Zucker Actors: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, Vincent Schiavelli, Stephen Root, Gail Boggs
he idea of a good ghost romantically haunting his true love is infinitely more fascinating than the intermittently problematic execution in Jerry Zucker’s (“Ruthless People,” “Airplane!”) Academy Award-winning film. However, with plenty of comedy from a scene-stealing Whoopi Goldberg, enchanting moments of iconic passion, and an appearance by the cinematically pleasing theme of revenge, “Ghost” is still definitely worth a look. Even if the special effects are noticeably dated and the suspension of disbelief isn’t always sustained, enough lighthearted energy permeates this fantasy to keep it all tremendously memorable beyond the end credits.
Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) and the love of his life Molly (Demi Moore) are enjoying moving into an enormous new home, where she can house her exhibit-worthy sculptures and he can relax in his sore-thumb armchair. Just as they’re getting comfortable, Sam is killed in an alley on the way home from a New York play. Molly is mortified and stricken with grief – but Sam’s ghost isn’t about to let her go so quickly.
Stuck in a form of purgatory, in which he can still see the living, Sam sets out to solve his own murder while simultaneously protecting Molly from the evils of the crafty money-laundering scheme that brought about his demise. Since best friend Carl Bruner (Tony Goldwyn) is somehow mixed up in the crime, Sam desperately tries to enlist the help of spiritual adviser Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) for human communication. But she’s a skeptical, annoyed scam artist who seems to be the only one (with “the gift”) who can actually hear him – and she certainly isn’t thrilled to be used as a paranormal medium.
Although “Ghost” quickly distracts viewers with lovey-dovey banter and the unforgettably famous, oft-parodied clay-sculpting love scene (which is so erotically charged that the PG-13 rating can’t suppress the XXX vibe), there’s a morose preoccupation with death and plenty of foreshadowing to alert of the darker events to follow. Sam’s transition into the world of the semi-afterlife isn’t perfect, but it’s cleverly disguised with a partial nightmare/dream sequence and out-of-body experience that doesn’t completely knock the viewer out of the spiritual concept. Even the conclusion, which leads to more questions than solutions, doesn’t detract from the heartfelt love story at the center of it all.
Despite the pushy influences of good and evil, heaven and hell, and the questionable role of pseudo-purgatory, “Ghost” works quite competently, not just in appealing visuals but also in a routinely witty script (winning an Oscar for writer Bruce Joel Rubin). With amusing sequences of Sam learning to be an effective specter (walking through doors and upsetting cats), hilarious comic relief from Whoopi (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her part), and convincing romance from the two leads, even Demi Moore’s frightful haircut can’t hinder the entertainment value of this vastly original contemporary classic. And audiences would reward it with outstanding commercial success, making it the highest grossing film of 1990.
– Mike Massie