Let’s talk about chemistry in film.
Chemistry can sometimes be hard to define. (As someone once said about pornography, you know it when you see it.) At a base level, though, chemistry is the sense that the actors genuinely know and understand one another, that there’s something more to their connection that makes you want to watch. There’s a spark between them, a secret that only they share, that pulls you in and makes you believe in them and whatever they are to each other.
Romantic comedies live and die by the chemistry between their central couple. Rom-coms are notorious and adored for their ridiculous scenarios and simple conventions. They usually don’t matter because audiences are too invested in falling in love with the characters falling in love to care about logic. As long as there’s chemistry – a longing look, a quiet shared smile – the antics don’t matter.
Ghosted pushes the chemistry test to its breaking point. The film stars Chris Evans as Cole Turner, a modest farmer unlucky in love because he’s needy. One day at the farmer’s market, he meets Ana de Armas’ Sadie Rhodes as she’s trying to buy a plant. The two flirt-bicker their way into a day-long date. It seems like fate until Sadie doesn’t respond to his (numerous) texts. Cole flies to London to surprise her, not taking the hint that Sadie probably isn’t interested (or that she might be too busy to respond to his countless emojis). He ends up surprised: he gets kidnapped, drugged, and roped into Sadie’s mission to stop an arms dealer from selling a weapon of reasonable destruction. Cole’s enigmatic one-day stand is a CIA agent, and the two must reconcile their clandestine date with their growing frustrations with each other while also saving the world.
The premise is ridiculous (and very creepy), but it isn’t entirely new territory for the romantic action-comedy genre. Again, it all comes down to the chemistry. Luckily for director Dexter Fletcher, he landed Evans and de Armas, two well-liked actors who demonstrated great chemistry in Knives Out. Ghosted should be a no-brainer, or at least a pleasant chance to see the two stars add extra heat to the explosions surrounding them.
Ghosted’s temperature barely hits lukewarm. Despite what the clips circulating Twitter and TikTok might have you believe, Evans and de Armas’ chemistry isn’t the problem. They make a lovely (if somewhat tentative) romantic pair. Sparks do fly between them, but only when they aren’t speaking. The script, practically written by committee, viciously cripples them. It is a line-by-line debacle, riddled with insipid dialogue that poisons Evans and de Armas’ natural rapport. (It’s telling one of their best scenes is a love scene montage.) Nearly every exchange Cole and Sadie share sounds forced and unnatural, a failed approximation of how two people with mutual attraction (and disdain) might sound. The script manages to undercut every compelling or cute moment it stumbles upon, erasing whatever goodwill it mustered.
The flickering chemistry between its main characters makes Ghosted’s other issues more glaring than they usually would be. The film struggles on multiple levels, from its dodgy premise to how it brings that premise to the screen. You can feel the movie patting itself on the back for what it thinks are clever and intelligent plot points. They are transparent, groan-inducing, and dumb. (For instance, Cole figures out Sadie is in London because he left his only inhaler in her bag, and he has a GPS tag on it because he loses track of stuff.) The mission that essentially serves as Cole and Sadie’s second date is just as silly. It’s a world-ending crisis that feels needlessly complicated for a couple struggling to communicate like teenagers. That said, it does facilitate an occasionally exciting action sequence and some genuinely cool cameos (likely courtesy of Evans’ Contacts app).
Fletcher doesn’t balance Ghosted’s dueling action and romance modes well. He often loses grip of the tone, swinging between self-aware humor and heady seriousness in distracting ways, sometimes in one scene. He aims for gravitas, like when Cole struggles with him killing someone, but doesn’t let it rest before uncomfortably switching gears. Fletcher is much more comfortable in the film’s quieter character-driven moments. There, he trusts his actors and audience to absorb the emotions without overwhelming them with slapstick dialogue and brutal quick-cut action. Even then, the script nods to conventional themes about taking risks and facing your fears that are grating and pointless. The lack of trust is pervasive, from the incomprehensible editing to the shamelessly visible green screen backgrounds.
Fletcher’s uncertain direction also impacts the performances he pulls from his stars. Evans cuts a swoon-worthy figure, with a knowing smirk and glint in his eyes. He excels in the film’s soft romantic moments, listening quietly and looking intently at Sadie like she hung the moon. Unfortunately, Fletcher pushes Evans more towards a broad, distractingly affected comic approach that doesn’t quite suit him. (Also distracting is how physically fit and agile he is for a hapless damsel in distress role.) De Armas is similarly misdirected, delivering overbaked irritation when her sweet spot lies in either enticing, steely mystery or underplayed, sharp humor.
Fletcher offers glimpses of Evans and de Armas at their best, which aids in Ghosted being a frustrating experience. There is an engaging, charming romantic action comedy here. It’s just buried beneath an intangible script, uneven direction, dodgy effects, and a story that would land most people on a watchlist. (The movie would’ve been better if it started at the end, but it wouldn’t have set up the inevitable sequel.) Even if you take it at face value (as a decent weekend diversion), you want better for everyone involved.
Maybe ghosting isn’t so bad after all.