WE HAVE A GHOST: 3 STARS. “Casper, the introspective ghost.”
The ghost played by David Harbour in the new Netflix movie “We Have a Ghost” may not be quite as friendly as Casper, but that’s only because his life, and afterlife, were grave affairs.
An adaptation of “Ernest,” a “socially mediated ghost story” by Geoff Manaugh, originally posted in Vice, the new film begins with Frank (Anthony Mackie) looking of a new start for his family, including his lonely, guitar obsessed son Kevin (Jahi Winston). A rambling old home appears to be calling out for a new family, but there is one problem. The place is haunted by the spirit of Ernest (Harbour), a restless, bowling-shirt wearing ghost who, attracted to Kevin’s guitar playing, materializes in the home’s attic.
“You moved into the house of death?” asks Kevin’s neighbor (Isabella Russo) incredulously.
Ernest can’t speak, but the two connect, sensing the trauma that has touched each other’s lives.
When Frank finds Kevin’s video of Ernest he senses a chance to make money off the wayward spirit. He sets up a YouTube channel, and soon Ernest’s story has attracted the attention of millions of viewers, a television psychic (Jennifer Coolidge) and a C.I.A. agent (Tig Notaro) determined to get to the bottom of this ghostly story.
What begins as a way for Frank to make some quick cash becomes a heartfelt investigation into Ernest’s life before the afterlife.
“We Have a Ghost” is not really a ghost story. It’s more a story of fathers and sons, of tragedy and truth, of connection and disconnection, with a side order of the supernatural. The set-up sounds slapsticky—“There’s a ghost in the house!!”—but soon settles into its own vibe, part introspective, part bittersweet and part “Scooby-Doo. The elements don’t all easily fit side-by-side like puzzle pieces, but Harbour binds them together with a silent performance that brings both pathos and absurdity to Ernest.
The hard shifts in tone give “We Have a Ghost” an uneven feel. It feels scattershot, as though it is trying to make up its mind about what it is trying to be. The mash-up of horror, comedy and family friendly never gels, but there are highlights like Jennifer Coolidge, who brightens things up as a parody of an ambitious television psychic.
With its teen leads, sentimental underpinnings, paranormal experiences and family dynamics, “We Have a Ghost” aims for an Amblin kind of feel. It misses the mark, but provides enough good fun—although not for the youngest members of the family—to earn a recommend.