“We Have a Ghost doesn’t break any new ground, but it still delivers a fun, satisfying adventure supported by a great cast.”
Great cast in fun roles
David Harbour keeps it silly
Jahi Di’Allo Winston is a standout
Shaky story logic
Stretched thin over at two hours
It’s easy to forget that films can be fun. They don’t all need to be emotionally complicated or packed with shocking moments, narrative twists, or allegorical and metaphorical themes. In fact, it’s OK if a film doesn’t aspire to do more than bring a talented group of storytellers together to entertain you for a little while.
And that’s what Netflix delivers with We Have a Ghosta silly, supernatural comedy that doesn’t break any new ground, but manages to offer plenty of laughs with just the right amount of heart.
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Written and directed by Christopher Landon (who previously helmed the criminally underappreciated Freaky and Happy Death Day films), We Have a Ghost casts Stranger Things actor David Harbour as the film’s titular, restless spirit, who’s discovered by a teenage boy after his family moves into a new home. Instead of being scared, lonely teenager Kevin (Charm City Kings actor Jahi Di’Allo Winston) befriends the ghost, Ernest, and sets out to help him move on to the afterlife. Kevin’s efforts are complicated by his father (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s Anthony Mackie), who sees Ernest as a moneymaking opportunity, as well as by an ambitious ex-CIA agent played by Tig Notaro.
There are plenty of familiar influences to be found in We Have a Ghostwhich offers yet another tale of kids befriending a friendly outsider with powerful abilities in the vein of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and, yes, Stranger Things. It’s a well-worn narrative with some modern twists, as Kevin — a contemporary teenager with plenty of exposure to horror movies — doesn’t find anything frightening about Ernest, and social media turns the ghost into a viral sensation instead of a scary secret.
While Kevin’s adventure with Ernest holds few surprises for anyone familiar with this particular subgenre of family-friendly supernatural and sci-fi adventures, We Have a Ghost is still rewarding, thanks to Harbour and Winston’s performances, and the fun the rest of the cast are clearly having with the film.
We have a (terrific) cast
Harbour is particularly entertaining as the film’s central, spectral character, who sports the sort of old-school bowling shirt favored by grandparents and ska bands, and one of the most egregiously terrible comb-overs in cinematic history (right up there with Bill Murray and Woody Harrelson’s Kingpin hairstyles).
Unable to speak, but able to become tangible, turn invisible, and transform his appearance at will, Ernest is a narrative Swiss Army knife in Kevin’s adventure, getting him and his family in and out of trouble as the story demands. The rules pertaining to Ernest’s abilities feel fuzzy at best, but Harbour sells the silliness of it all without a hitch. The Violent Night actor does a lot with the limited range of expressions the character allows, and his talent turns Ernest into a character both sympathetic and silly in equal measure.
Winston also does well as the film’s angsty teenage hero, who finds purpose in investigating the mystery of Ernest’s death, and in doing so, finds a way out of his shell. Like the films that clearly inspired it, We Have a Ghost is a coming-of-age story wrapped in a fantastic, kid-empowering adventure, and Winston comfortably carries the emotional arc of the story as Kevin’s experiences help him figure out more about life, love, and his relationship to his family.
Mackie, Notaro, and Jennifer Coolidge all contribute to the film’s fun factor, too, with Mackie playing a hapless dad with decidedly less swagger than his Marvel alter ego, and Notaro flexing some different acting chops as the film’s villain. Coolidge makes the most of a brief appearance as a sketchy television medium, with some hilarious moments that offer a nice reminder about her ability to steal any scene she’s in.
Too much and too little
Even with all of the fun, uncomplicated performances to be found in We Have a Ghostthough, the film still feels a bit overextended with a runtime of over two hours. By the third act, the novelty of Ernest’s ghostly hijinks begins to wear a little thin. This could explain why new manifestations of Ernest’s powers begin appearing with increasing frequency late in the film, but it’s never quite enough to distract from a shtick that starts to feel a bit old by that point.
We Have a Ghost also struggles a bit to maintain its own background material at times, with Kevin’s troubled family history never explored enough to support the level of angst that defines his character early on. Similarly, the backstory of Notaro’s character informs some major plot points in the film, but her entire history — which apparently involves an X-Files-like covert government paranormal investigation agency — is essentially relegated to a few lines of exposition.
That combination of elements that could benefit from more exploration and an overly long running time that could use some narrative belt-tightening ultimately leaves We Have a Ghost with a bit of an identity crisis, but it remains entertaining thanks to the fun everyone involved seems to be having with it.
We Have a Ghost isn’t going to leave you pondering life’s mysteries, your own mortality, or any other heady topics, but it accomplishes what it set out to do: generate plenty of laughs. Sometimes that’s enough.
Written and directed by Christopher Landon, We Have a Ghost premieres February 24 on Netflix.