They blow the “meet cute.” But that’s never the actors’ fault, and since the leads are Ana de Armas and Chris Evans and they ARE cute, and we all know they’ve already met with their “Knives Out,” that’s no biggie.
Our story takes over a half hour to set up, which is right on the cusp of unforgivable. And it drifts on after the climax, and actor turned director (“Rocketman”) Dexter Fletcher (he also plays a scruffy “contact”) ought to know when to drop the mike by now.
But that’s quibbling when your product is a big and noisy, scenic and messy action comedy that delivers laugh-out-loud sight gags, punch lines and star cameos — most of whom play characters with all the screen life span of Tom Cruise’s character in “Edge of Tomorow.”
You can’t and probably shouldn’t say this about many movies, but the bad guy deaths in “Ghosted” are often slapstick hilarity incarnate — machine-gunning motorcycling mugs staring in shocked slo-mo as they hurtle past the window of the Pakistani jitney bus de Armas has just used to run them right off a cliff.
But how does a college-educated organic farmer serving the street markets of D.C. meet a C.I.A. agent masquerading as an “art consultant?” At a street market, where she’s trying to buy a houseplant even though she “travels” a lot and can’t offer anything like “love” to it, or anything.
That’s just Cole Turner being instantly judgy. “Cactus,” he figures, suits the beautiful woman whose phone number he would love to get. Something prickly and that can live through her neglect is all she deserves.
Yes, there’s a succulent used as a metaphor, and eventually a running gag.
Sadie sizes-up this good-looking Gomer as a provincial who’s never even traveled outside of the country.
But something makes her serve up that phone number, and then suggest coffee as a first date becomes an afternoon, an evening and even a following morning in our lovely nation’s capital.
He sends her a text or two…or more, the next day or so. His mom (Amy Sedaris) is comforting, his dad (Tate Donovan) thinks he needed to mention he “wrestled in high school.”
Kid sister (Lizze Broadway) is the one who figures he’s blown it, and that he’s been “Ghosted.”
But in the strangest “stalker” via technology turn ever, Cole figures out where she’s gone and figures she’ll be up for his “grand (romantic) gesture” of just showing up in London and tracking her down.
Nope. Following her around just gets him nabbed by bad guys. They think he’s “The Tax Man,” a notorious assassin who must be paid and must have “the pass code.”
The first villain he meets is a Russian who purrs “It truly eees an honor to torrrrture you today” and slaps him because that “hurts me, a leetle,” and “I’m all about sharing the exPERience!”
Borislov is played by that walking, talking “Buster Scruggs” drawl, Tim Blake Nelson, the only cameo I’m going to give away here. And with his amusing arrival, and Sadie’s abupt rescue attempt, “Ghosted” gets up and gets going.
We dash from the Khyber Pass and bazaars of Pakistan to The Arabian Sea, having already been treated to the most scenic spots in Washington (a romantic walk along the Patowmack Canal, a sprint up “The Exorcist” steps) and a spot of London.
The shootouts are staged in an epic, effects-heavy jitney bus vs. pickups and motorcycles chase through that famous pass, in a villain’s lair, on a private jet and in a very distinct sky-high restaurant.
The bad guy in pursuit of the MacGuffin of the tale is played with a venomous French-accented edge by Oscar winner Adrien Brody. His badass/bad jokes henchman (Mike Moh) is the first guy to sing a bit of The Beatle’s tune, “Taxman.”
But of course we hear that again, of course there are romantic montages and action beats set to pop music and of course we never ever really fear for our heroes, because Hitchcock only killed his leading lady once. And that’s the tone here — jokey, on the move, sometimes surprising, violent with a big ol’body count and still not all that serious.
Because no movie which serves up a sea of “bounty hunters” with names like “The Serpent” and “The Grandson of Sam” and played by a lot of people you know is going to be anything but a bloody lark.
Evans, playing a Chris Pine role — a guy repeatedly saved by a more heroic woman — is light on his feet and quick with a quip. And let’s just say that as furious as the fights get, every time “high school wrestler” foreshadowing is made good, that’s a big laugh.
Ana de Armas puts herself in Gal Gadot, Angelina/Halle/Chastain territory as a perfectly credible, adorably pouty action heroine.
And as messy as all this is — it’s more “Bullet Train” than “Extraction,” as far as streaming action epics go — it plays. The laughs land and the crooked corpses pile up and the leads, despite every bit of artifice and clumsiness showing in the “relationship” side of the script (they used Chris McKenna, Rhett Reese and Erik Sommers, but probably needed a good female scripter to take a pass), the leads have chemistry.
“Ghosted” manifests itself as a pleasantly amusing piece of cheese, embraceable for the breezy time-killer it is. But if they dare decide to franchise it, they’ll need a writing upgrade for that to come off.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of strong violence/action, brief strong language and some sexual content
Cast: Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Mike Moh, Amy Sedaris, Lizze Broadway, Mustafa Shakir, Tate Donavan and lots of cameos
Credits: Directed by Dexter Fletcher, scripted by Chris McKenna, Rhett Reese and Erik Sommers. An Apple TV+ release.
Running time: 1:56