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movie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Cathy Moriarty, Eric Idle, Amy Brenneman, Ben Stein, Joe Nipote, Mel Gibson, Rodney Dangerfield, Dan Aykroyd

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

CASPER is the story of an extremely sweet little "living impaired" character, a.k.a., a ghost. He lives with three trouble making ghosts called Stretch, Fatso, and Stinkie. They ridicule him and treat him like their slave. They all live in a large spooky house.

Into their life comes Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty), an evil woman, who inherits the house. She only wants it because she thinks there is treasure in it. When she finds out there are spirits living there she hires Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) since he is a famous, but broke, therapist for troubled ghosts. He and his teenage daughter, whose name is Kathy Harvey (Christina Ricci) but who is known simply as Kat, are traveling the country by car in search of the ghost of Kat's departed mother.

The star of the show and the only reason to see the movie is Casper. The special effects by Industrial Light and Magic in this show are just that - special. Casper is a sweet character as well. The movie clicked when he was the feature of a scene. The intended to be repulsive other ghosts were that, but they were not particularly interesting or funny. Always crude and sometimes scary, but on the whole a disappointment.

Let me cut to the chase and talk about the fatal flaw in the movie. The script by Deanna Oliver and Sherri Stoner relied on sight gags for almost all of the laughs. There were the odd funny words like the quote I opened this review with, but not many. Worse, the characters were not developed nor was there any discernible plot. Contrast this with ET where you cared about every character and the plot raced along. ET did not rely on the inherit cuteness of the lead to carry the picture. Overall, the script of CASPER felt too derivative of previous movies like ET and THE ADDAMS FAMILY movies. There were even cameo appearances by stars from other films like GHOSTBUSTERS which enhanced this retread image.

Because of the script, the middle part of the movie really drags. Better editing (Michael Kahn) might have helped enliven the middle section. Kahn is an Academy Award winning editor so perhaps with this script it was hopeless.

There is one part of the script that frankly I do not understand. This is a movie aimed at an audience of children and is rated PG. There were kids all over the place when we saw it. Given this, what was the purpose in giving the characters dialog that included: "damn", "hell", "for Christ's sake", "bitch", and others? The lines were not important ones and the characters used these words as if they were innocuous fillers of the pauses in one's speech, i.e., as if they had no meaning at all. Why teach kids this for no purpose? It certainly did not spice up the show to any extent.

The acting was spotty. Kat started off slow, and I thought they had miscast the role with Christina Ricci (from both THE ADDAMS FAMILY movies). By the middle of the movie, Ricci had come alive and her sweetness was a mirror of Casper's. The chemistry between them was well done and was the best part of the directing by (apparently) first time director Brad Silberling. I hope to see Ricci in many more movies. She turned out to be excellent. My favorite scene of her was the dance sequence at the end. Lovely. Made you want to relive your teenage years again.

Cathy Moriarty does not seem to know how to play a villain, and her director was of no help to her. The biggest acting disappointment to me was that of an actor whom I am fond, Bill Pullman. Pullman, who was most recently in the excellent movie WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, here gives a performance with no life. I can only partially fault him since the writer gave him little to work with.

For a movie with wonderful special effects and which undoubtedly cost a bundle, I was surprised at how low budget looking the sets by Academy Award winner Leslie Dilley were. The sets and the overall feel of the show kept making me think of a made for TV movie. Only the special effects reminded me that this was a large budget production.

CASPER runs 1:35. It is rated PG and is a harmless movie except for the previously discussed dialog problems. Jeffrey, my six year old, got scared during some of the movie, but gave the movie thumbs up. The only scene he did not like was the adult romance scene. He liked the romantic scenes involving the kids. Hmm, guess in his mind old fogies like parents should leave romance to the youngsters. Unlike Jeffrey I can not quite bring myself to recommend CASPER, but I do award it ** for a great lead and for some magical special effects. Maybe Casper will be back with a better script next time. I'd like to see him again.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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