By Ralph Novak
July 23, 1990 12:00 PM

Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze

First: This isn’t another movie about friendly spirits hanging out. It takes the ghost business with boneheaded seriousness.

For example, once New York City investment type Swayze is killed in a mugging and realizes he’s dead to the world (though visible to the audience), he starts researching ghost behavior. He wants to help Moore, his girlfriend, catch his killer. So he finds a veteran ghost, Vincent Schiavelli, who can physically influence the living.

Swayze goes into training, and Schiavelli tells him, “You’ve gotta take all your emotion—all your anger, love, hate—push it way down into the pit of your stomach and let it explode.” In its intensity and mumbo jumbo, the scene resembles Yoda guru-ing Luke—you expect Schiavelli to tell Swayze, “Let the ectoplasm be with you.”

Then there are the fundamentalist Christian overtones. When a villain dies, he is dragged off screaming—dragged down, into the floor—by animated black shapes who look like refugees from Fantasia. When a nice guy buys it, he is led in his ascent by a squadron of luminous Ping-Pong balls, who are clearly leading him to Heaven—or maybe even the place where Kevin Costner drafted his players in Field of Dreams.

Meanwhile, back on the earthly plane, Moore is setting an all-time record for most scenes of tears welling up in eyes as she mourns Swayze. Then she meets Whoopi Goldberg, a medium who really has the ability to talk to the beyond. The film’s highlight comes when Swayze’s spirit leaves his visible self to enter Goldberg’s body so he/she can touch Moore. For a moment it looks as if we’re about to see an interracial, lesbian, proxy sex scene.

But nooooooo. We have to deal with the real villain, whose identity is intended to be a mystery for a while, though it’s obvious.

A subdued Goldberg has a good moment or two, and Tony Goldwyn (grandson of mogul Sam) is effective as Swayze’s best friend. But this film is dopily written by Bruce Joel Rubin. (“You lying snake!” is one of his big lines for Swayze.) The zero-perspective direction is by Jerry Zucker, who has been involved with on-purpose-funny movies—such as Airplane!—but none that more richly deserves guffaws than this one.

If making bad movies qualifies as a deadly sin, Rubin and Zucker had better start pushing all their emotion into the pit of their stomachs right now so they have a fighting chance when those little devils in the black outfits come after them. (PG-13)