Review – A Remake With A Ghost Of A Chance (“Blithe Spirit”)

Based on Noel Coward’s stage play, this is a remake of the 1945 movie starring Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford. Another victim of the pandemic, this movie was to have been released last year, but it finally got its chance in the streaming market now.

If you saw the original movie or the stage play, you pretty much know the story, but this film adaptation bumps up the film version and tries to give it an old-fashioned Hollywood screwball comedy beat. It’s 1947 England and prolific crime novelist Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) is having a severe case of writer’s block, having to turn his first book into a screenplay. His doting, but demanding wife Ruth (Ilsa Fisher) isn’t helping much, as her daddy is producing the movie and wants the screenplay yesterday. Perhaps a night on the town will help? Together they watch a local performance of the mystical medium, Madame Arcati (Judi Dench), who turns out to be a fraud on stage.

But! That gives Charles inspiration for his script. When he invites Madame Arcati over for a private seance, the old woman accidentally conjures up the spirit of Elvira (Leslie Mann), the mischievous and cocky late wife of Charles! As a ghost, only Charles can see and hear her, but as time goes on, Elvira can manipulate and move objects around, causing problems and making Charles’ life difficult. At first, Ruth thinks her husband has gone bonkers, but Elvira convinces her she’s quite real. Soon, Elvira tries to seduce her old husband by not only her feminine wiles, but literally dictating the perfect screenplay to him. After all, Elvira did secretly ghost-write all his books!

However, try as she may, Elvira can’t win his heart over, so she figures to kill Charles so he’ll join her in the afterlife. Meanwhile, Ruth has contacted Madame Arcati (who is having problems of her own) and is trying to get her to send Elvira back to the spiritual realm. While Arcati is busy at work cooking up a spell, Elvira is trying all manner of ways to kill Charles, but succeeds (by accident) in murdering the wrong person! The third act is a whirling dervish of pandemonium, deaths, and unexpected reveals.

The writing team of Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard, and Piers Ashworth (Burke & Hare, Fisherman’s Friend) all tried to dust-off the dated play/movie and give it some pizzazz with a movie screenplay twist tie-in, which by the way, actually works, but went with a more gentle English comedy then your more broad Monty Python style, although elements of that do sneak in every once in a while. Moving at a rather slow pace, the movie does have some rather funny moments, but needed to be that over-the-top, fast-paced comedy that many British comedies are famous for.

Dan Stevens is arguably a fine actor (Downton Abbey, The Man Who Invented Christmas), but this needed more of a Hugh Laurie or Simon Pegg to really sell the comedy. He was good, but wasn’t great. Think of Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace; the more manic, the better. Both Ilsa Fisher and Leslie Mann were wonderful as the wives and, of course, Dame Judi Dench is just picking up a nice little paycheck here and having some fun while she’s at it. Still, if you’ve seen the 1945 version (free on YouTube), this isn’t all that bad a remake.

**Now streaming on Amazon Prime and other VOD services  

Over Her Dead Body (2008)

What? Never heard of this movie? Not surprised. Even though boasted a pretty good cast (Eva Longoria, Paul Rudd, Lake Bell, and Jason Biggs), this blend of Blithe Spirit & Ghost bombed at the box office. Could it be because the writer/director has never directed before or since? Hmm…

Ah, marriage! That happy, happy day when happy, happy couples are happily married. Happy, that is, except for Dr. Henry Mills (Rudd) whose control-freak fiancé, Kate (Longoria) is accidentally crushed to death by an angel ice sculpture right before the wedding. Ouch! About a year goes by and depressed Henry is taken to a psychic-caterer (helluva combination!) by his sister, Chloe (Lindsay Sloane, doing a Kate Dennings imitation) with high hopes that she’ll make contact with the deceased Kate. Henry meets Ashley, the psychic (Bell), and her fake-gay assistant,  Dan (Biggs).   

But this fraud of a psychic somehow summons the ghost of Kate, who doesn’t show up until act two. Why? Well, it seems that Henry, even though he’s a skeptic, slowly starts to fall for this kooky, hot-mess-of-a-redhead. And when that happens, ghost Kate decides to show up in human form and terrorize Ashley, (only Ashley can see & hear her) warning her NOT to fool around with her old fiancé… or else! At first, Ashley pays no heed, but Kate is relentless, unscrupulous, and just plain mean as she plays terrible pranks on Ashley to get her to concede. Now, does Ashley tell Henry about all this? Nope! She only says she’s in “psychic communication” with Kate! Auuggh!!

Anyway, Ashley gives up and leaves Henry for her own sanity, which leads right into the classic ‘third-act-break-up-that-results-in-a-final-reconciliation-at-the-airport’ trope that is standard for most rom-coms like these. Aside from a few clever lines and one or two chuckles, this movie is, more or less, a series of sitcom scenes spliced together to make a movie, almost as if this were a pilot for a TV series. And it’s no wonder, as the writer & director was Jeff Lowell, the prolific writer of such TV series as Three and a Half Men, The Jim Gaffigan Show, and The Ranch. This movie marked his one and only foray into directing. One and done.

And it showed on the screen. While the plot had legs (even though the story was old and done before), the comedy was lazy and episodic, with only a few laughs peppered throughout the film. What’s worse is its star, Paul Rudd (seriously, doesn’t this guy EVER age?), looked like he wasn’t having any fun at all and had no chemistry with Lake Bell. In fact, only Biggs, Bell, and Longoria looked like they were giving it their all in this dismal comedy.  

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