Ghosted (2023)

Hey Siri, write me a generic thriller

Film Twitter has been abuzz recently over speculation about what films generated completely by artificial intelligence might someday look like. And I think the answer is that it would look something like Ghosted: cookie-cutter to the point of brain rot, soulless, heartless, and altogether lacking artistry. It isn’t broken in the sense of any of its narrative or production components not mechanically fitting together. But somehow, broken would have felt better. It would have implied that a human tried and failed to make something. Or maybe a human was lazy and didn’t try to make something. Either way a human was involved, and I cannot, with high confidence, say that about Ghosted.

As an action-based romantic comedy, Ghosted sticks us with two attractive people and expects us to fill in the gaps. Cole (Chris Evans) works at a farmers market-style stand that sells houseplants. He is single and has a long history of growing clingy to new girlfriends too quickly. One day, his shop is visited by Sadie (Ana de Armas). She is a working professional whose job requires frequent travel. She recently lost a coworker and is looking for something to fill the void. Her boss suggests a houseplant, so she approaches Cole’s stand. He tries to sell her a plant, but the pair end up arguing over whether she is flaky for not having time to water a plant or he is just being judgmental. I know I make this setup sound inane; trust me it’s worse than it sounds.

The movie intends for their dialogue to be sexually charged bickering, which we know because surrounding characters frequently repeat the line: “Wow, you two should get a room.” As if these characters (and, I assume, the writers) are still in 10th grade. I’m not even paraphrasing. That’s the line they actually use, over and over.

But what is actually missing from this first-act setup and every subsequent scene is the chemistry itself. Armas and Evans are as comfortable as a pair of wet socks. We know from Knives Out that these two are compatible onscreen together, so I have no explanation as to why they are so frigid here.

Despite their initial friction, the two end up going out and sleeping together. And when the immediately-clingy Cole tries to chase Sadie down on one of her trips as a grand romantic gesture, we learn that Sadie refers to her job in cryptic remarks because she’s a spy on the verge of completing a major mission. Cole gets mistaken as a secret agent, action-comedy-romance misunderstandings ensue, dogshit North by Northwest knockoff, et cetera.

It’s got the ingredients of a farcical fun time, but none of the goods. They bumble through one set piece after another, none of which are particularly bad but all of which are numbingly generic. The entire movie is flat and over-lit and as visually dull as an episode of sitcom. The needle drops are tacky: The worst offender is a 5-second Beatles cue of “Taxman,” a song already specifically name-dropped in the script, that probably cost well into the six figures to license.

Adrien Brody appears as the movie’s villain, and he’s the only here who seems to be having fun. I even almost like his scenes. There’s some prickly fun seeing Brody against type as a big boss villain. The rest of the bad guys are bland bullet sponges, and there’s a whole lot of cliche “mission gone south” spy plot to get us to the final showdown, but Brody delivers well enough.

As a comedy, it’s pretty rough, too. I smiled a few times but didn’t laugh once. A few of the setup-payoff quips are fun, but still feel so forced thanks to the lack of chemistry between Evans and de Armas. Frankly, a checked-in cast would have made everything seem a little less bad.

I remarked in my review of Your Place or Mine that it was the most a movie has felt like content: “the art of cinema … systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator,” to quote Martin Scorsese. But Ghosted’s ChatGPT-ass husk takes the Uncanny Valley Championship Belt

Is It Good?

Not Good (2/8)

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