“You stalked your way across the ocean to find me.” -Sadie
In Ghosted, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas reunite after Knives Out and The Gray Man for a Knight and Day-esque romantic action-comedy that actually pairs them as a romantic couple. But wait, there is a twist; Mr. America’s Ass is the one playing the damsel-in-distress.
Evoking the tradition of Jennifer Lopez playing characters with bland American names, de Armas plays Sadie, a seemingly ordinary museum art curator. We meet her as she speaks with someone on the phone about the recent death of someone whose life resembles hers. She laments how impersonal the person’s home is and how sad she is with the state of her life. She maintains this mindset when she arrives at an outdoor market and meets Cole (Chris Evans), an ‘aw, shucks’ guy who works and lives on his family’s farm.
The two have instant “chemistry” as they banter about Sadie wanting to purchase a plant that doesn’t require too much attention. As a farmer and agricultural historian, Cole passionately argues with Sadie about being unsuited for caring for a plant. This situation is misconstrued but quickly resolved as the two embark on a date that stretches into the night and the following morning. Cole is smitten, and thinking she may be the one, is left in shambles when she “ghosts” him.
In a twist I never expected to see again, this seemingly innocuous spy rom-com takes a turn that is only mildly less appalling than the one in Passengers, starring another famous Chris (Pratt), and Jennifer Lawrence. Unable to accept that he has been “ghosted,” Cole remembers leaving his inhaler in Sadie’s bag during their date and tracks it. Yes, folks, this Apple TV+ original is also an ad for AirTag. (Reader, this detail is included as Cole, who is very intelligent, is forgetful and will quickly lose things he needs, like his inhaler). This takes him to London, where he accidentally falls into a trap designed for Sadie. Sadie rescues him, and he has the gall to claim that she, a spy, lied to him while he stalked her. From that point on, the film is a mind-numbing haze with supposedly fun cameos from actors that were either in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) or have notable fandoms behind them.
Dexter Fletcher doesn’t deserve the lashings, as his directorial efforts have a lot of great instincts, but the execution is lacking. For one, this production feels cheap for a film with a $40-45 million price tag. As a reference, John Wick was made on a $20-30 million budget. The globe-trotting actioner is subpar and falls flat, with so many of the locales and settings reflecting how cold, lifeless, and uninspired the movie is. There is little humour to it all, and it pulls back on the violence, which just lessens the impact of both the action and the comedy that comes from it. The PG-13 rating has become the true enemy of the genre. Fletcher proved to be very adept at handling musicals and endearing biographical stories with levity and impressive technical prowess. However, Ghosted does not resonate on screen, leaving the audience with the impression that Fletcher doesn’t have much to offer as a filmmaker.
The script, by Deadpool’s Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and the MCU Spider-Man’s Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, contributes significantly to the movie’s blandness. Reese and Wernick have shown before that they can handle comedic action films with Zombieland and all three Deadpool films in their pocket, but with all these cooks in the kitchen, Ghosted is a tasteless mess. The narrative, character development, moment-to-moment beats meant to develop Sadie and Cole’s relationship, and the comedy barely make for a watchable experience. A severe sense of incompetence permeates the whole picture, which is absolutely not warranted with a film of this budget, starring A-list talent and backed by some of the biggest names in screenwriting, directing and producing.
Despite the combined star power of Evans and de Armas, the two have zero on-screen charisma and even less chemistry, which is both the fault of a lacklustre script and a director not attuned to his actor’s performances. Knives Out, the catalyst for this ongoing screen partnership, stands out because writer-director Rian Johnson helped mould their on-screen chemistry. Since then, their partnership has not popped on the screen. Sidebar: Initially, Scarlett Johansson, another longtime collaborator of Evans, was meant to play Sadie. There is something interesting about those two playing with their history of acting together and alongside each other in the MCU. Their chemistry has been tangible for many years, and Ghosted would have been an ideal vehicle for the two to manifest their own Mr. and Mrs. Smith moment. Chemistry is both a manufactured concept and a natural one, and Ghosted proves that with Evans and de Armas, it requires careful attention and coaxing.
Aside from the leads, the ensemble is giving “this is a beach house gig.” From Adrien Brody’s questionable “French” accent as the mustache-twirling villain to the unbearable celebrity cameos, no actor in this cast feels like they care about this project. Much like the dull, non-descript set pieces and costuming, the cast is just decorative. There is a severe lack of substance in this movie, and you can feel it the most when numerous familiar faces appear on the screen, and you only see the actor and not the character they are playing. Additionally, the movie suffers from the comedy that derives from the cameos, villains, and henchpeople as they are audaciously monotonous and juvenile.
The film’s fatal flaw lies in Sadie and Cole’s relationship. For one, there is no wit or sexual tension; heck, there is barely an indication that the two are attracted to each other aside from the script telling us that they are. Their date sequence plays like a short film that is actually an ad for an iPhone. There is no life to their discussions or flirting, especially with Dua Lipa’s “Pretty Please” interjecting and reminding you that we never got a music video for that banger. The screenplay does too much to tell us that they are meant for each other, but the execution does too little actually show us that they have a connection.
De Armas is trying; her performance as an emotionally stunted spy is sincere, and she plays it to the best of her abilities. She would shine more if her costar were cast correctly. At a point, Evans’ Cole exclaims, “I’m a farmer, not a super spy,” and while past work should not be the basis of judgment, it is hard to watch him say that while he looks like he is about to shoot an ad for Dior in between shooting Captain America sequels. There is nothing schlubby or salt-of-the-earth about Evans, at least not anymore. The last time he played such a role effectively was in the underseen 2017 film Gifted. The script doesn’t do much to endear us to him, especially when we are supposed to find it humorous and cute that he is totally inept in dangerous situations, but is surprisingly helpful for this particular mission. This is the reverse Knight and Day, which was not a particularly great movie, but somehow is infinitely more watchable than this.
Before we drag poor Knight and Day into this, I’d like to go back to another film I referenced before, Passengers. In his video essay, “Passengers, Rearranged,” Nerdwriter1 asks, “Is it possible to make Passengers better with some minor changes?” The same question can be asked of Ghosted, and the answer would also be yes. The problem in Passengers was that the luscious, sci-fi romance centred on a man who makes an incredibly selfish decision. In Ghosted, Cole becomes obsessed with the prospect of a successful relationship with Sadie, a woman he admittedly doesn’t know beyond what she told him on a first date. After mulling over a comment about his sheltered upbringing, he suddenly catches the travel bug to find her halfway across the world. Folks, that’s stalking. That’s not cute or charming, and the film wants us to believe it is.
Both genre-blending projects make the mistake of presenting a sympathetic portrait of a man who is spurred to action because they are sexually attracted to a woman they barely know. In the case of Ghosted, Cole, at the very least, has gotten to know Sadie, but just like Pratt’s Jim, he does not consider what she wants when making a drastic decision. She has given him zero indication that he should follow her while she is on a business trip, and while it is not as bad as condemning someone to grow old with you alone on a spaceship, it is still pretty bad. It is made worse by Cole taking a nonconsensual photo of the two in bed before he decides to take on this grand romantic gesture.
If the romance was rooted in happenstance, like Knight and Day, and not such an actively terrible choice, then the romance is salvageable. Because there is no convincing me, or anyone, that Sadie withholding the fact that she is a damn spy is anywhere equal to what Cole says and does. The screenplay is aware of the boundaries that Cole crosses, the screenwriters have even gone on record to suggest that they know that this would be a difficult thing to work through, but they assume that the consequences Cole faces are enough to make his actions forgivable or seem like the actions of a naive man. He is a grown-ass man in 2023 (presumably); he should and would know better. It is further infuriating because no matter how mad Sadie gets, Sadie will forgive him, and the two will just grow past these mistakes. To boil it down, Cole sucks and zaps the fun out of this whole movie.
Circling back to Knight and Day, directed by James Mangold, it was not the pinnacle of action flicks, but it sure had charm, wit, energy, and ludicrousness. You can laugh at the movie and with the movie. It was flagrantly outrageous but, in the end, wholly enjoyable. Plus, Tom Cruise was perfectly cast, and to a lesser degree Cameron Diaz was too; sadly, she had to play a very outdated female lead. Furthermore, the Bollywood remake of Knight and Day, Bang Bang, starring Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif, injected a healthy dose of colourfulness and numerous musical numbers, as is the norm for Bollywood. The basic premise was neither elevated nor perfected, but the remake, like the original, knew how to have fun. Ghosted is anything but. It doesn’t even have an earnest love story worth rooting for.
Ultimately, what takes down this film is the lack of energy, joy or even pizzazz. The film is too strictly bound to a formula. There is no personality except for a few gravity-defying action set pieces that hint at the comedic backbone this film should have had. Too many shockingly bad choices shatter the illusion that this is a work of art and not some glorified ad with stars. From Ana de Armas’ wig to the inexplicable dullness of the cinematography, Ghosted lacks the vibrancy that this story demands.