Ghosted Review: A High Concept In Search Of Good Writing

Watching Chris Evans and Ana de Armas in the new Apple Original Film "Ghosted," it's hard not to think about the power of truly brilliant screenwriting. Specifically, it's hard not to think about how difficult brilliant screenwriting must be, seeing as it's nowhere to be found here. We have seen Evans and de Armas separately prove themselves to be immensely charming and charismatic performers, and we have seen them bounce off each other with aplomb in the excellent murder mystery "Knives Out," which served as something of a larger breakout role for de Armas and as a reminder that Evans had a lot more depth as a performer than just playing Captain America. They have both been very good before, and they'll hopefully be very good again. As long as they have good scripts, that is, because "Ghosted" sadly ain't it. 

Considering that it only takes 105 minutes before the end credits mercifully roll, "Ghosted" ends up taking a little too long to get through its throat-clearing setup. Evans plays the somewhat needy Cole, whose true passion is cultivating plant life but who struggles to keep a long-term relationship. De Armas is Sadie, who says she's an international art curator and has had trouble herself with her romantic past. The operative word here is "says," though; they have a somewhat spiky meet-cute, an enjoyable romp in the sheets, and then Sadie seems like she's embodying the film's title by not responding to Cole's many follow-up texts. When he goes on a whim to London to find her (having inadvertently left his inhaler in her purse and able to track it on his cell phone), he's shocked to learn that Sadie isn't an art curator but a CIA agent, and he's now mixed up in an international battle over a mysterious but powerful weapon.

The high concept of the film, with a script credited to Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, is easy enough to buy into, but only to a point. The meta aspects of what's meant to make the high concept funny — wouldn't it be a hoot if Captain America was the one out of his depth in an action-movie scenario? — only go so far because knowing that Chris Evans has more than proven himself in genre pictures by now means two things. First, it's safe to assume that Cole is going to end up holding his own in a few action sequences by the end (which he does), and second, knowing that Chris Evans has action-movie bona fides makes it harder to buy Cole's inability to hold his own until the very end. Perhaps if the casting went to the other extreme, with someone relatively out of his depth in action movies like a Seth Rogen, it would be too far in the other direction. But Evans and de Armas each seem pretty standard issue in terms of getting involved in the action, making the build-up to their eventual dual battles fairly rote and uninspiring.

A love story with no chemistry

But then, the word "uninvolving" is best applied to the other half of "Ghosted." On paper, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas would seem like a perfect romantic-comedy couple, but their chemistry in this film is nonexistent. Part of it is that the script does them absolutely no favors; in the early going, the teasing between the two of them is meant to be charming but winds up obnoxious and loud. It doesn't help matters that characters are constantly telling Cole and Sadie to "get a room" (a suggestion provided to them at three separate junctures), and that their sexual tension is off the charts. Usually, if someone has to tell characters that their sexual tension is off the charts, it means the exact opposite. It ought to work, and yet, it doesn't.

The same is true pretty much across the board in "Ghosted." The attempts at playful cameos — as in a scene where Cole and Sadie are captured by one bounty hunter, only to be re-captured by another bounty hunter, and then another bounty hunter, all of whom are portrayed by very recognizable actors — seem less witty and more like a feeble attempt at juicing up a lifeless story. Even the various needle drops seem to vacillate between unnecessarily glib (as when "My Sharona" pops up during a cliffside car chase) and desperate (as when a Beatles song is heard after being constantly referenced in the script). 

The combination of familiar modern faces, uninspired action, and faux-funny winking stabs at humor make it somewhat shocking that this isn't a Netflix Original Film instead. So many of the players involved here have recently appeared in Netflix fare, from Evans with "The Gray Man" to de Armas with "Blonde" to a few of the cameo performers (though to mention them here would spoil something that may yet serve as one of the only legitimate surprises to be had). This movie has all the hallmarks of that streaming service's original fare, in that it is only technically original while feeling heavily indebted to better films, better actors, and better stories. Could there be a version of "Ghosted," where a civilian gets in a relationship with a spy and ends up in international intrigue, that works? Possibly so, and possibly even with the same lead actors. But you can only do so much when the script lets you down from the first page.

/Film Rating: 3 out of 10