A ghoulish waste of time for these talented actors.
The second film version of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” play stars such talented people like Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher, and Judi Dench, but misuses them for typical and embarrassing comedy. It’s a modern-day period comedy that caters to the new decade by having jumpy music (composed by Simon Bowell), freak-outs, and awkward moments.
The story is set in England, 1937, when crime novelist and would-be screenplay writer Charles Condomine (Stevens) suffers from writer’s block, and loses his mind. One night, he take his wife Ruth (Fisher) and friends-the Bradmans (Julian Rhind-Tutt and Emilia Fox)-to see the medium Madame Arcati (Dench) perform on stage and humiliate herself when the rope carrying her snaps. Despite that little mishap, Charles invites her to perform a seance for him.
After the seance, Charles begins seeing the apparition of his deceased wife Elvira (Mann), who mocks him for moving on with Ruth. At this point, only Charles can see her, which is why we have to have the same old “I wasn’t talking to you” misunderstandings. And when the spirit proves to Ruth she’s real, she has to use lipstick to make a portrait look like a devil, which freaks her out, and Ruth has to tell Elvira to stay away from her husband.
This spirit has no redeeming values, which is why she drugs Ruth into making herself look like a fool at a party, why she plans to murder him, and why she sends Ruth plummeting to her demise off a cliff.
The 1945 version starred Rex Harrison as Charles, Constance Cummings as Ruth, Kay Hammond as Elvira, and Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati. This was back when special effects were in the early stages, which is why you would believe the effects for Ruth running through Elvira wasn’t as ideal as when objects float. But mostly, this version relied on the radiant performances from the cast, when they transcend from comedy to drama. That film I’d rate 3 and a half stars.
This new version of “Blithe Spirit,” however, sends everyone in a downward spiral. In what comedy universe is it hilarious to watch Charles trying to use a sledgehammer to kill the already-dead Elvira and then getting injected with a needle in the neck, Ruth chasing her freighted baker (Michele Dotrice), and her stripping down to her undergarments at the party? You got me.
Stevens has to make nasty faces, Mann gives a Razzie-nominated performance when she can’t seem to decide if she’s trying to be an English or American Elvira, Fisher has to be loud, and Dench feels like she has better things to do. And there’s also the housekeeper Edith (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), who doesn’t do anything but walk around and becoming the witness to the strange behaviors in the house. Jacqueline Clark was wisely used in the original movie version, as her character was a beneficial part of the story. This Edith, not so much.
And the movie has to end with a dumb subplot in which Elvira helps Charles writes his next screenplay, which he has to claim as his own, and his dead wives decide to ruin his life. Why did they need to go in this direction? Why wouldn’t they have marriage counseling with the medium, and see why their lives weren’t as magical as they should have been? It feels like they wanted to make it look like “The Other Woman,” which also starred Mann, and was even worse.
The only good thing about this mess is how the special effects make the knives and lipstick levitate, when the characters can’t see the spirit holding them. Aside from that, this is one of the worst comedies I’ve ever seen. They have the 1945 version on YouTube for free, so I suggest you see that instead of this, and compare the volume and constancy of that classic to the noisy and degrading tone of this one.
In Select Theaters and On Demand This Friday