When Cole encounters a beautiful stranger, Sadie, while minding a friend’s stall at a rural Washington farmers market, he’s somewhat oblivious to the potential sparks flying between them – though he’s encouraged to repair any oblivious damage by asking her out for a coffee. The coffee becomes a tour of the local area and turns into a full-on date and a singular night. But thereafter she doesn’t return any of his calls and when he realises his trackable inhaler is in her bag, he decides to see where she is. It tuns out she’s thousands of miles away in London, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as she told him she was an art curator whose timetable leaves very little time to plan ahead.
But deciding he never does anything on impulse and he has some free airline vouchers to cash in, Cole decides to surprise her by travelling all the way to London to reunite.
However, the surprises are only starting – because soon after his arrival, he’s ambushed and held captive by shady individuals who believes he’s a CIA operative known as the Taxman. And the real problem is that the real ‘Taxman’ really wasn’t expecting a guy she hooked up with a continent away during a break from work to turn up and mess up her current assignment…
Ghosted is the prime example of something probably working as a concept, perhaps even on paper but not remotely following through on the actual screen. On an action front it’s a drop-out pretending to be a work-out and a huge disappointment.
Let’s be clear: Even with the merest of kindling, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas should be able burn up the screen together or, at very least, provide a smoldering action double-act for the duration (Evans is, of course, the most famous Captain America and has proven himself a deft hand at self-deprecating comedy when needed and Armas is the seriously sensuous leading lady of the moment, coming off the back of an Academy Award nomination for Blonde and who will be entering the John Wick universe for Ballerina). Essentially, on every front this should all be a slam-dunk, a walk through a proverbial park if not one that tests any new boundaries.
So it’s sad to report how dreadfully Ghosted barely holds together even on a basic level and – frankly – just how little chemistry there is between two of the hottest actors of the moment… who have already appeared together in Knives Out and The Gray Man (and despite every other character in this film demanding ‘they get a room’ as a running joke that borders on likely unintended irony). Good romps and capers may start out in a very basic manner on the page, but they wisely tailor proceedings to the strengths of the people cast. Ghosted boasts no such criteria and was clearly initiated with unspecific star-power in mind to carry it through, but it’s a creaky outing in which you could legitimately put a whole swathe of recognisable names into and not have to change the script by one syllable… and that’s always going to be a potential fault-line.
More accurately, it’s the lack of anything consistent or challenging that scuppers it all. It starts in the same vein as multiple templated cinematic love-stories and is initially fine if undemanding. Amas’s Sadie, clearly troubled by a recent death of a ‘colleague’, takes some downtime for herself and finds herself in a Washington urban market that would make the FFA proud. Wandering around the stalls she starts talking to Evans’ Cole, a pleasant guy, but an idealist who’s going nowhere in life. There’s an opposites-attract spark and our main characters flirt awkwardly over some subtle snark and succulents… Before you can say ‘mismatch‘, the not-couple are having coffee, exercising on the ‘Exorcist‘ steps and cautiously circling something more. A one-night-stand takes place and then ‘art curator’ heads off and doesn’t return any of Cole’s numerous calls. He’s been, get ready for this… ghosted. When Cole – adamant that she’s the ‘One’ and there must be another reason for her not returning his barrage of calls – follows her to Europe on a rare, impulsive whim and presuming she’ll see his arrival as a grand romantic gesture (and, guys, let’s be honest when ‘whim’ and international-level ‘stalking’ are virtually interchangeable, it never works out well), he’s suddenly kidnapped by enemy agents who have mistaken him for Sadie’s shady CIA operative aka The Taxman (What – she’s not really an art curator??? Well, goshdarnit!) The minute that Ghosted pivots into a globe-trotting action-adventure, the romance becomes lip-service punctuation and the film falls apart, becoming by-the-numbers with a very limited numeration and palette and familiar ideas beyond its budget. Cole has never left the US but amazingly has a passport and un-used ticket vouchers at the ready. Characters become paper-thin, their motivations muddled and at the whim of a thin script that simply moves on to one set-piece after another. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and done better.
The singular joke is that cinema’s premier Avenger is now the hapless damsel in distress, one who constantly needs to be saved by a love-interest who says she’s putting the mission before the man (then never does) and it wears itself out pretty quickly. There’s plenty of cinematic examples of A-Listers playing against stereotype for laughs, but while Evans throws himself into the mix and can sell himself as a clumsy everyman well enough, seeing him then fumble through international espionage and following Armas’ agent around like a somewhat petulant puppy for ninety minutes doesn’t give him enough to do. Had this been tweaked, with – say – Amas’ CIA operative forced to hide out in rural suburbia, falling for Cole and simultaneously trying to maintain her cover in rural suburbia amid rising threats, it might – might – have proved more subversive, but instead this is an identikit picture, swapping out indifferent international backdrops to sleep-walk through and throwing in the kind of artificial dialogue and structure that feels untouched by real human hands.
Amas has an undeniable allure and has been proving herself in interesting roles for a fair while – and handles herself well enough here with some hand-to-hand combat – in a role that was originally going to be played by Scarlett Johansson). The annoying thing is she’s more than capable of everything the film demands, if only it demanded more. Her fight scenes are fine, but refined in the editing process and it can’t disguise the scattershot nature of proceedings as vehicles and the script-pages send us flying in all directions with little rhyme or reason. There’s a handful of good stunts, but several more inferior ones and, FX-wise, the back-projections and green-screens are obvious and even the in-situ stuff seems awfully second-hand and overtly derivative of everything from Romancing the Stone (it wishes!) through to the forgettable Cruise/Diaz two-hander, Knight and Day.
If the central star power wasn’t presumed to be enough, there’s a whole slate of supporting players, but mostly reduced to delivering a few lines and then shuffling off. Tate Donovan and Amy Sedaris play Cole’s parents, reassuringly suburban and just wanting the best for their son. The brief appearances of Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan as rival assassins (sent to bring in the ‘Taxman’) are fine as in-jokes for Friends of ole’ Marvel, but they really add nothing to the movie except flimsy decoration and Ryan Reynolds’ obligatory cameo feels more like the actor was passing by and grabbed to say a few random, ad-libbed lines. (Which, in reality, seems to be exactly what happened) Frankly, those appearances (and an odd line about Cole’s decision about going to Europe ‘not being like fighting the Germans‘ as a nod to his shield-throwing hero) smacks less of fun and more of a last-minute desperate reshoot and rewrite to desperately generate some touchstones in a film devoid of any actual watercooler moments.
Surprisingly, this is all helmed by Dexter Fletcher, the actor-turned director who has been proving himself pretty well in recent years with the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody (where he completed the film for an AWOL Bryan Singer) and the Elton John biopic Rocketman. But there’s no distinct fingerprint here and if you are only partially aware of Fletcher’s involvement and reputation, this outing will likely come as a surprise.
Even on a generic level, Ghosted disappoints. The action genre can be amazing but it has been known to also produce shelf-loads of superficial, plot-lite offerings over the years. This is such a film, one that – despite its ingredients and the fact it’s apparently the most-watched Apple TV+ movie of all time thus far – looks set for several Razzies and feels less about the Taxman and all about a tax write-off.
- Production Design / VFX6