RATING |

Originally published July 13, 1990

Ghost is a suspenseful, supernatural comedy-romance starring Patrick Swayze as a murdered banker whose spirit protects his endangered girlfriend Demi Moore through the unlikely medium of sham spiritualist Whoopi Goldberg.

Because it comes from Paramount Pictures, the studio that specializes in formula blockbusters, you guess that Ghost intends to combine Poltergeist's haunting elements with Ghostbusters' taunting wit. Given its obviously commercial aims, Ghost is remarkably appealing on a purely personal level. It is about how you deal with death.

The script by Bruce Joel Rubin succeeds at combining seriously emotional material with seriously funny sequences about the skepticism with which you regard the supernatural.

Yes, this is the kind of movie where the good guys go to heaven on beams of celestial light and the bad guys go you-know-where when attacked by animated figures in black shrouds.

But it is also the kind of movie where the delightful Whoopi Goldberg - in her first decent role since 1985's The Color Purple - plays a bogus medium who, to her horror, discovers that she really has the gift. And doesn't know if she wants it.

Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg) plies her trade in a Brooklyn storefront where for $20, she'll tell you that there's a curse on you, and for $20 more, she'll have it removed. One afternoon, Oda Mae hears a voice that interrupts her ''seance. "

The disembodied voice belongs to Sam (Swayze), a dead Manhattan banker whose spirit is in limbo. He thought he was a mugging victim. Turns out, he was murdered and his slayers are after his girlfriend, Molly (Moore). Sam implores Oda Mae to help him contact Molly, who of course suspects that Oda Mae is a con artist. Finally the two women and the ghost expose the criminals.

Crisply directed by Jerry Zucker (one of the three-man committee that did Airplane! and Ruthless People), the film impressively balances schmaltz and slapstick, realism and the supernatural. Zucker is particularly good at physically evoking Sam's ghostly limbo - how tiring it is for his spirit to penetrate walls.

While at 2 hours, 7 minutes, Ghost occasionally seems overlong, Zucker should be commended for taking time to develop characters - almost a lost art in contemporary commercial films.

Equally commendable is that Swayze, Moore and Goldberg - three performers whose movie choices have lately been, well, incomprehensible - here redeem themselves.

Although Swayze doesn't make an altogether convincing banker, he's completely believable as a smitten boyfriend who regrets dying before telling his beloved how he feels about her. (The film has enormous fun with the idea that some guys would rather die than say "I love you.") Ghost's action is especially suited to Swayze's athletic grace.

Moore, who has the uncanny ability to cry crocodile tears at the drop of a penny, makes an affecting Molly. And her quiet performance is a perfect complement to Goldberg's shrilly hilarious Oda Mae. For her part, Goldberg's Oda Mae is occasionally inhabited by Swayze's Sam - and "together" they're as funny as Lily Tomlin's spirit inhabiting Steve Martin's body in All of Me.

Also extremely memorable is Tony Goldwyn as Sam's friend, Carl, who tries to put the make on Molly as Sam's spirit jealously watches,

Working from Rubin's engaging screenplay, Zucker has a lot of fun by occasionally standing back from the characters and observing how funny this all is, which produces a greater sense of emotional realism. Next time you see someone talking to herself, remember, she may not be crazy - only conversing with a ghost.