Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Ghost Dad (1990)

We finally live in a time when some women feel like its possible to come forward about the sexual assault and violence they've suffered, even when the responsible party is a beloved pop culture icon. Since this has begun, a few stock reactions have cropped up. I recently saw a brilliant comic mocking one of the most common reactions, the “I never liked this person anyway” reaction. Which will make the following statement from me read as especially insincere but: I always thought there was something off about Bill Cosby. As a stand-up, I frequently found his material amusing. Yet the wholesome, family man image he projected, most obviously on his sitcom, always struck me as somewhat insincere. I guess I never got over the bullshit he put Lisa Bonet through. If I've never been much of a Cosby fan, why do I own “Ghost Dad,” which is not even regarded as an especially good Bill Cosby movie? 

If the title didn't tell you enough, let me lay down the plot of “Ghost Dad” for you. The film follows Elliot Hopper. A recently widowed father of three, he's frequently not at home because he's so busy working. He's so absent that he forgets their birthdays and records their bed time stories to tape. One day, on the way to work, Elliot is picked up by an insane cab driver. Soon, he ends up careening off the edge of a bridge. Hopper awakens as a ghost, believing himself to be dead. He soon learns he can briefly make himself corporeal and goes about trying to return himself to the land of the living.

On the surface, “Ghost Dad” has some things going for it. Behind the camera was Sidney Poitier. Yes, that Sidney Poitier, the Academy Award winning actor who previously directed half-decent comedy “Silver Streak.” The film was co-written by S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. This same team had a hand in creating nostalgic favorites like “Tremors,” “Short Circuit,” and “*batteries not included.” Those movies overcame their high concept premise to become decent. “Ghost Dad” does not achieve this goal. Every expected gag is pulled off in as excruciating a manner as possible.

So we get a ghostly Cosby attempting to pass a physical exam, utilizing a skeleton during an x-ray and stealing another man's pee. In jokes right out of a “Casper the Friendly Ghost” cartoon, people react in frightened, exaggerated manners to Cosby's shenanigans. Such as when he wraps himself up like the Invisible Man, makes it look like his youngest daughter is lifting a large trash can or helping his budding magician son pull off outrageous tricks. Most cringe worthy is when he uses his ghostly abilities to torment the sleazeball interested in dating his daughter. Yes, there's even some fart and poop jokes. The non-ghost jokes the film cooks up, like a man having a woman's name, are equally uninspired.

Being a movie about a dad who is also a ghost was not enough of a log line for “Ghost Dad.” The  film follows the standard family movie narrative of a workaholic father who, via fantastical circumstances, learns to make more time for his kids. (Connecting this film with fellow high-concept family movie and previous “Why Do I Own This?” entry,  “My Stepmother is an Alien,” the dad in both films is a widower.) At one point, he chastises his children because he's afraid of loosing his job. Even though he's, you know, dead and his job should be a moot point. In fact, the tension over his job is one of the primary motivators of the plot. Copper has to go through some ridiculous hoops to keep his job, even though he's a fucking ghost. The film's commitment to corny bullshit is confirmed in the last act, when the script wimps out and undoes Copper's ghost status.

When over fifty women accused him of rape, it became impossible to enjoy anything Bill Cosby has ever done. That he frequently played the role of a wise family patriarch just makes everything he did more uncomfortable. “Ghost Dad” is an especially awkward watch. Copper becomes a ghost because he hitches a ride with a devil-worshiping cab driver. The scene builds until Cosby declares himself to be Satan incarnate. Later, there's a scene where Copper's female neighbor, unaware of him being undead, attempts to coax him into a romantic encounter. Yeah, that was unpleasant. Aside from the shitty script, Cosby's in-retrospect status as a monstrous human being makes the ending, where he declares his undying love for his teenage daughter, even harder to swallow.

Why Do I Own This?: There's absolutely no excuse for me owning this stinker. So why do I? Well, you may recall a previous column where I reviewed “King Ralph.” The easiest way to grab that film was in a four pack. And what where the other movies in that set? “Pure Luck,” “For Richer or Poorer,” and “Ghost Dad.” Apparently “shitty, high concept comedies” was the connecting theme in that four film collection. Even if it didn't start a serial rapist, “Ghost Dad” would still be a really shitty movie. The script is garbage and the jokes are limp. [4/10]

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