We live in an era where film enthusiasts often accuse new movies of not really existing. They’re not rejecting observable reality. Rather, they are offering an exaggerated way of saying that something isn’t any good. They are acknowledging the fact that more and more content, designed for quick and casual consumption directly through streaming platforms, has a fleeting quality. After consuming one of these pictures, seeing the film’s poster or thumbnail image creates something of a Mandela Effect reaction.
Did I actually see that?
“Ghosted,” the latest original film from Apple TV+, stars Marvel Cinematic Universe veteran Chris Evans and Academy Award nominee Ana de Armas in a globe-trotting, spy-fi romantic comedy from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the scribes behind the first two “Deadpool” movies. When it was first announced, given the star power attached, it seemed like the sort of thing that had the potential to make a real dent in the pop cultural consciousness. Having just watched it, however, the film’s specifics are already evaporating from my memory.
In the film, Evans plays Cole, an emotionally needy farmer who consistently drives potential love interests away by being clingy and off-putting. He looks like Chris Evans, so the film makes an effort to frame these foibles as charming quirks and not unsettling icks. But when he meets Sadie, an ice-cold workaholic trying to bring life to her sterile, oft-unattended home by purchasing a house plant, we’re treated to a lengthy meet-cute of opposites attracting. Each figure is poised to help the other overcome some core flaw.
The choices made by director Dexter Fletcher leave us with a boring and uninteresting romance. Both performers portrayed adversaries in director Rian Johnson’s whodunit “Knives Out” but still possessed enough on-screen chemistry for my little sister and countless modern Tumblr users to write inspired but misguided fanfiction about their characters.
However, that chemistry is missing here. Once the first act’s curtain closes, 30 minutes of possibly the blandest rom-com ever made is mercifully saved by the convenient twist that this is a spy thriller and the “job” that Sadie kept so mum about is being a secret agent. Plenty of the late ’00s/early ’10s studio pictures mixed these two genres quite beautifully, like Doug Liman’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” James Mangold’s “Knight & Day,” and even McG’s “This Means War.” But where those flicks had sharper scripts, more collectively charismatic casts, and livelier filmmakers at the helm, “Ghosted” has only “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman” director Fletcher. Here he seems to be sublimating what little distinctive visual flair he possesses to turn in one of the most milquetoast productions imaginable.
There’s so little to grab onto here. You’ve got Tim Blake Nelson and Adrien Brody slumming it in villainous roles with awful accents. In the second act, there’s a sequence where a procession of bounty hunters are revealed, each portrayed by a big-name actor delivering a stunt cameo, as Ryan Reynolds likes to do. (He makes a cameo himself in the finale, sadly.) Much of the film was shot in and around Washington, D.C., but the staging and cinematography are so dull they make the Kennedy Center, a real-life place I have been to on numerous occasions, seem like a fake set.
At times, “Ghosted” offers brief moments of respite, implying it was possible to have produced a better movie. Whenever the film’s cruddy banter pauses to give Evans and de Armas moments of silence, the two do enough with their eyes and faces to remind us why they’ve been so successful in other movies. But even the film’s handful of smart moments that blend romance with espionage are undone by lowest-common-denominator style choices. A breadcrumb from earlier in the movie, where Cole took a selfie of him and Sadie in bed while she slept, reappears to blow a ruse the two are performing in a life-or-death scenario. But it’s immediately blown to bits by the mind-wracking decision to score the next fight scene to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”, as if this were an iPod commercial from 20 years ago and not a feature film. The film’s final climatic shootout employs “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars to similarly laughable results.
As we’ve seen AI technology like ChatGPT evolve exponentially, infiltrating art, music, and everything else under the sun, many industry pundits have been theorizing about artificial intelligence’s place in the future of Tinseltown content creation. But the future might already be here: films like “Ghosted” and others produced by companies like Apple are indicative of a wave of movies where creators forgo the risk of offending anyone. Instead of taking risks, we are left with stale options that lack authentic storytelling.
Sure, flesh and blood humans allegedly wrote and directed “Ghosted.” Still, it has all the same pockmarks of something conceived by a lazy producer typing “star-studded secret agent rom-com” into ChatGPT. We have little reason to believe that future editions of such software would come up with anything better that we haven’t seen before.
“Ghosted” is currently available to stream on Apple TV+