High Spirits

HIGH SPIRITS. 1988

Director: Neil Jordan

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Neil Jordan is a fine director & Sir Peter O'Toole a fine actor, so one immediately expects High Times to be much better than such trite films with similar themes & lesser actors as Michael J. Fox in The Frighteners, Eddie Murphy in The Haunted Mansion or Bill Pullman in Casper.

Alas, trivial as are these other films, they're each one better written & more entertaining than Jordan's High Spirits. The first half hour is just dead weight, bewilderingly awful, packed with gags that cannot even inspire a slight grin, & workmanlike performances that fail to sell such weak material.

Peter Plunkett (O'Toole) is about to lose his run-down ancestral mansion when he hits on the bright idea of faking a lot of ghosts for dim-bulb American tourists. Some of the fake ghost gags are quite hugely staged, but not a one of them is the least bit clever, interesting, or amusing.

Nor does it even make sense within its own context. Given that the castle will be foreclosed on in a matter of weeks & dismantled & shipped to California, the plan to have a few tourists in to see some ghosts doesn't really seem like just the thing to stop this from happening. But the script seems to presume, baselessly, that if the hauntings are impressive enough, the castle will be spared.

More than half an hour into the film, when the fake-ghost gags have run their tedious course, the castle's real ghosts are awakened, & the film becomes at least tolerable thereafter. Henpecked American (bland Steve Guttenberg) falls in love with a beautiful ghost (ethereal Daryl Hannah). The henpecked American's shrew of a wife (Beverly D'Angelo) falls in lust with the psychotic ghost (Liam Neeson, the only actor here to actually be funny; he milks the badly written role for all he can make of it).

With comedy-romance the main point, there's also a seminarian (Peter Gallagher) on the eve of his vows as a celebate priest who falls in love with dingbat tourist Miranda (Jennifer Tilly). The Gallagher & Tilly subplot could be entirely removed without the slightest loss to the film.

Yet another under-developed subplot features a ghostbuster & his perhaps lusty wife. They are so minimally developed that their story seems already to have been left on the cutting room floor where Tilly & Gallagher's story belonged.

An array of eccentric villagers work in the castle & they are also totally undeveloped as characters, not a one of them was memorable even though they were given plenty of silly things to do for the first half hour before their importance is eradicated by the arrival of American tourists. Thus there is a big cast running about, very few of them coming to life on the screen.

But the love stories of Shrew & Psycho Ghost, Henpecked Husband & Pretty Ghost, occasionally rise to a level sufficient to hold one's attention. Cutsie is a bad stand-in for humor, however, & High Spirits may well remain one of the unfunniest slapstick ghost stories ever made.

There is one appealing sequence when a stage designed by Peter Plunkett for fake sea-ghosts & rigged with wooden cut-out waves & ships & a mermaid comes alive with sea monsters that really do threaten drunken onlookers. This one sequence is like a stand-alone cartoon sequence & it has nothing to do with any of the characters in the film, so it lends nothing whatsoever to the story, but it was at least entertaining.

In all, this has got to be one of writer-director Neil Jordan's worst films, & seems scarsely possible that it's the same director who has made such splendid films as The Company of Wolves & Mona Lisa before High Spirits, & such fine works as The Good Thief & The Crying Game afterward.

Jordan seems to know how badly the film fails, since he has made the excuse that he was not part of the editing process. He swears there's a better film, the one he actually directed, that has never been released. But it's hard to imagine any degree of tinkering in the cutting room could make it more than marginally less awful.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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