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Roger Ebert once famously wrote in his Glossary of Movie Terms that no good movie had ever been made since 1977 featuring a character with the first name of Cole. (Inexplicably, he went on to make an exception for the decidedly not-good “Days of Thunder.”) I cannot say for sure whether that rule has held up over the years, but I suspect if he had lived to see “Ghosted,” he might have elected to finally retire it once and for all on the basis that there was no worse example that could ever come along. This film is so smug and self-satisfied that you can practically feel the contempt everyone involved with its production has for its audience.
Our Cole (Chris Evans) is a farmer/agricultural historian who is perpetually unlucky in love because he tends to get too intense too early and scares people off. He meets the mysterious Sadie (Ana de Armas) at a farmer's market, and the two seem to hit it off famously throughout a long date that covers everything from karaoke to a visit to the famous steps from "The Exorcist." Alas, when he tries to contact her the next day, she ignores his incessant texts and emojis. Thanks to a decidedly lame plot construct, he figures out that she is now in London, and, in what he considers to be a grand romantic gesture and not a massive red flag, he decides to fly over there and surprise her. This is supposed to be charming and not at all creepy, with even his parents (Tate Donovan and a spectacularly wasted Amy Sedaris) urging him on.
After arriving, he thinks he's tracked her down but is immediately kidnapped and taken to the lair of a torturer named Borislov (Tim Blake Nelson), who believes Cole is someone known as The Taxman who has crucial information that he hopes to extract via the use of murder hornets. Before that can happen, he is rescued by a mysterious figure who turns out to be ... Sadie. It turns out that she is actually a CIA agent pursuing a master criminal named Leveque (Adrien Brody), who is attempting to acquire the codes for a spectacularly deadly new super weapon so that he can sell it on the black market. These codes are thought to be in possession of The Taxman, and since everyone thinks that Cole is the Taxman, he becomes the target, with Sadie using him as bait to stop the bad guys for good. This leads them on an international journey to stop Leveque and potentially save the world while bickering and bantering between the incessant gunshots, explosions, and car chases that comprise most of the plot.
You may recall—though you will be infinitely happier if you don’t—last year's “The Gray Man,” an incredibly lousy and thoroughly unmemorable load of international espionage claptrap that was like watching someone else playing a bad video game. That film happened to co-star Evans and de Armas, and I can’t help but wonder if they made a secret pact between them to try to find another such vehicle that was even more vapid and forgettable. Mission accomplished. There has been a lot of talk lately about artificial intelligence programs being used to create art and the potentially disastrous repercussions that might occur as a result. Although “Ghosted” has no fewer than four people credited with the screenplay and a director, Dexter Fletcher, whose previous “Rocketman” was one of the better music biopics of recent years, it feels as if it was created by just such a program, one evidently focused on following tired algorithms than anything remotely resembling genuine creative inspiration.
The aforementioned screenplay is little more than a half-assed rehash of “True Lies,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Knight and Day,” and the like that brings absolutely nothing of interest to the table. "Ghosted" is essentially a laundry line connecting its interchangeable action beats with tired characters, lazy plotting, and a complete lack of wit, humor, excitement, thrills, or basic coherence. Those aforementioned action sequences are certainly big and noisy, but Fletcher shoots them in such a bland, disengaged manner that he makes the Russo brothers look like the Coens in terms of stylistic flair. In what I can only assume was an effort to try to distract viewers from the formulaic proceedings, the film throws in a bunch of familiar faces in brief cameo appearances, which prove to be little more than a distraction from a movie that's pretty much a distraction all by itself.
However, the worst aspect of “Ghosted” is the virtually nonexistent chemistry between Evans and de Armas. Both are good actors and undeniably charismatic performers, but they fail to click here on any level. Watching the two struggle to strike sparks with such substandard material is genuinely painful. This would be bad enough, but the film inadvertently underlines this flaw with a running gag in which other characters comment that they should get a room because the sexual tension between them is off the charts. Based on the available evidence, this may be true, but, unfortunately, it is off the charts in the wrong direction—there was more palpable heat between the two of them in “Knives Out” than there is at any point here, and they weren’t even necessarily trying in that one.
“Ghosted” is a tedious exercise in sheer greed and laziness that presumes if enough money and famous faces are tossed into the mix, no one will notice, or at least mind, the utter vacuousness of the enterprise. By a bit of happenstance, I wound up seeing this film immediately after watching “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” and was in an uncharacteristically good mood as a result of that genuinely wonderful movie. However, by the time “Ghosted” finally dragged itself across the finish line—complete with threatening future installments—that sense of good cheer and hopefulness regarding the possibilities of cinema had been completely eradicated. At least the aforementioned “The Gray Man” had the dignity to be completely forgettable—honestly, before I mentioned it, did you even recall that it existed? But I have a terrible feeling this one is going to stick in your mind for a long time after you see it, no matter how hard you may try to erase it.
On Apple TV+ now.
Ana de Armas as Sadie
Chris Evans as Cole Riggan
Adrien Brody as Leveque
Mike Moh as Wagner
Amy Sedaris as Mom
Tim Blake Nelson as Borislov
Tate Donovan as Dad
Lizze Broadway as Mattie
Marwan Kenzari as Marco