Those that feared that kiwi auteur Peter Jackson would turn “respectable” after Heavenly Creatures can rest easy – his latest offering is as solidly psychotronic as anything he’s ever done.
Michael J. Fox stars as a troubled widower who gains the ability to perceive ghosts after a near-death experience. Figuratively haunted by his tragic past, literally haunted by some lonely spirits, he sets up a Skin Game-style freelance exorcism business, only to find himself in deep trouble when a deceased serial killer (Jake Busey, who provides double scares by looking exactly like his toothy dad) continues his death spree. Though widely perceived as another Ghostbusters wanna-be supernatural comedy (which Jackson nods to several times), this is also a film with lots going on at several different levels – a challenging agenda for summer audiences out looking for a hoot. Perhaps Universal would have been wiser to keep their originally planned October release date.
The plot roars along with the same breakneck pace and crazed camerawork as all of Jackson’s films, with a surprisingly high gore score for a big studio flick. Fox’s success in mid-’80s TV and movies has had him treading water through a wave of critical backlash the past ½ dozen years, but I’ve always appreciated his deceptively natural style, which often hides the depth of his talent. He gets a lot of meat on his character here, playing both a wisecracking hustler, a grieving loner, and a stressed-out paranoid on the edge of sanity (how would you feel if you could see ghosts all over) all in the same role.
The f/x (featuring more digitally generated shots than ID4), produced in Jackson’s own New Zealand studio, are simply breathtaking – far above the level of his previous work. This bodes well for Jackson’s remake of Lord of the Rings (hopefully one which we can all live with).