Director/Screenplay – Christopher Landon, Based on the Short Story Ernest by Geoff Manaugh, Producers – Marty Bowen & Dan Halstead, Photography – Marc Spicer, Music – Bear McCreary, Visual Effects Supervisor – Robert Stadd, Visual Effects – Entity (Supervisor – Mat Beck), Eye-Spy VFX (Supervisor – Jose Merra) & Redefine (Supervisor – Andre Bustanoby), Special Effects Supervisor – Matt Kutcher, Production Design – Jennifer Spence. Production Company – Temple Hill/Halstead Pictures.
Jahi Winston (Keith Presley), David Harbour (Ernest), Anthony Mackie (Frank Presley), Isabella Russo (Joy Yoshino), Tig Notaro (Dr Leslie Monroe), Erica Ash (Melanie Presley), Niles Fitch (Fulton Presley), Steve Coulter (Deputy Director Arnold Schipley), Tom Bower (Ernest Scheller), Jennifer Coolidge (Judy Romano), Faith Ford (Barbara Mangold)
Frank Presley and his wife Melanie buy a large old house going cheaply and move in with their two teenage sons. The younger son Keith is in the attic when a ghost wearing a shirt with the name Ernest emblazoned on it appears. However, rather than being scared, Keith doubles up in laughter. He films the ghost’s appearance and places the video online. When Frank finds the video, he is amazed at how it has become a viral sensation. They place more videos up, with Frank seeking to make money from it. Though Ernest cannot speak, Keith forms a friendship with him. Due to Frank’s relentless merchandising, curiosity seekers surround the house and Ernest attracts the attention of tv ghost hunter Judy Romano. Beyond all the hype, Keith and Joy Yoshino, the girl next door, seek to find Ernest’s identity. This takes them on a road trip where they persuade Ernest to leave the house. At the same time, Dr Leslie Monroe leads efforts to capture Ernest on behalf of the government.
I didn’t know exactly what to make of We Have a Ghost before sitting down to watch. Most of the notices it received were fairly mixed, tending to negative. The way people were greeting it, I was expecting something that fell somewhere between Ghostbusters (1984), or perhaps even more so High Spirits (1988), and Marlon Wayans’ A Haunted House (2013) or its sequel. Neither quite turns out to be the case.
The film has the fitfully amusing idea of a ghost appearing and proving a sudden viral media sensation. This plays out with mild amusement. Landon has occasional fun with scenes such as where Ernest puts on a performance for Jennifer Coolidge’s tv host. The most sincere moments are actually those where Jahi Wilson forms a friendship with Ernest behind all the hoopla. David Harbour gives an amiable performance that is entirely delivered in terms of shrugs and lugubrious expressions.
On the other hand, this seems an incredible slight premise to extrude out to a 2 hours and 6 minute film. Which is probably why the second half of the film turns into a raucous comedy where Jahi Wilson and Isabella Russo take Ernest out of the house. Here the scenes have been pumped up with a pointlessly overblown car chase sequence. Into the mix is thrown pursuing Government Agents where Landon has copied the playbook from E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), while outfitting them with big guns seemingly borrowed from Men in Black (1997). Along with a miscast Tig Notaro, who looks for all the world like a live-action version of Reepicheep from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), as the government ghostbuster who eventually comes over to their side.
In between that, Jahi Wilson and Isabella Russo dance around an attraction, aided by David Harbour’s ghost, although this has the frustration of being one where nothing at all happens, falling into the new Hollywood norm that prefers platonic avoidance than the depiction of attraction presumably so as not to want to step into the modern minefield of gender definitions and offend anybody. Which is a shame as both Jahi and Isabella both seem capable performers.