By Ralph Novak
July 09, 1990 12:00 PM

Bill Cosby, Brooke Fontaine

Cosby and this film’s director, Sidney Poitier, deserve respect. So, assuming that they had something in mind, here—straight as can be—is what Ghost Dad is about:

Cosby, a widowed father of three, is in a traffic accident and finds himself able to fly, move through walls and generally haunt his children. He needs to keep his earthly presence alive long enough to complete a deal that will guarantee the kids’ financial future, so he tries to convince his business associates and girlfriend Denise Nicholas that there’s nothing wrong, even though he is invisible in daylight.

So much for the all-due-respect part. Now, why are Cosby and Poitier wasting their time—and ours—with this twaddle?

The film’s only charm comes from Ms. Fontaine, a wide-eyed, sweet-faced 5-year-old, who plays Cosby’s youngest. She delivers the script’s best line, after seeing her dad’s ability to appear and disappear: “Can I take you to show and tell?”

Her very appeal is one of the film’s problems though. The tragic possibility that the three children will be left penniless orphans is always near the surface of what is supposed to be a comedy; in addition, the children hardly seem to care that their father has shown up dead, spending most of their time griping about what a nuisance he is and how poorly he has provided for them.

Meanwhile the film is confusingly inconsistent. Cosby is totally invisible at times, for instance; at other moments his clothes are visible but he’s not.

At the end Cosby’s teenage daughter, a surly role played by Kimberly (TV’s Head of the Class) Russell, has her own spirit experience, and Cosby does a teary “life is all there is” speech. Cosby, Poitier and the screenwriters—Chris Reese and Short Circuit collaborators Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson—might be accused of running out of gas, except they seemed to be sputtering the whole time anyway. (PG)