There may never be such a thing as to “pick a lane” when writing your movie script to a certain genre. Hybrids that mix-and-match are nothing new, let alone the kind to blend an action adventure with a rom-com. That mentality leaves Dexter Fletcher’s Ghosted stuck in an awkward position. It’s very fun, surprisingly well acted, and committed to being either a devilish spy thriller or a smart or witty love story. The fact that it can’t effectively balance neither quirks nor touchstones does leave the experience bound for a mediocre infamy. One, by which, we thankfully don’t cross, and yet can’t entirely overlook.
To follow in the muddy footsteps of Knight and Day, Out of Sight, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith would prove daunting to any director. Fletcher (Rocketman), working from a four-person script – credited Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool 2), Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: No Way Home), proves he’s up to the task, reconnecting with the light, intense, cocky side he’d once known as an actor. The sort of domineering trust and confidence he instills on his leads. Small town guy Cole Turner (Chris Evans) and city girl Sadie Rhodes (Ana de Armas) share two halves of this idea. One’s a farmer, the other a globetrotting art dealer. He may come on too strong, while she’s a partial introvert. Both are shaking off rough ex energies when their paths come across at a farmer’s market. Cole swings and misses at first chance, though Sadie takes a little pity on him, and agrees to an ultimately whirlwind first date, lasting until the next morning.
Cole’s enough of a hopeless romantic that, driven both by concern of losing “the one” (after sending one too many texts), and luck for forgetting a valuable item in her apartment, he decides to surprise Sadie in London. An innocent, stalker-less gesture, until a group of thugs mistake him for a rogue agent withholding secret information linked to a dangerous bioweapon. That’s when the can of beans spills, and Cole discovers why Sadie was ghosting. She’s a secret agent, he’s her baggage, and they’re stuck to work out their relationship issues on a madcap adventure, dodging the advances of former good guy Leveque (Adrian Brody).
And that might be the most enticing thing Fletcher aims to do differently with this frenetic slice of romance. That it wears a brave face to air out the wrinkles of its relationship, and rinse out the errant toxicity that could bubble at the beginning. The tricky part he struggles to curtail is matching that up with the same energy of his espionage thriller B-side and keeping the viewer engaged on both corners. Fletcher maintains quite the juggling act, therefore, without any lack of sequential visual flourishes, tightly edited by Chris Lebenzon (Uncharted). The type to echo more like The Lost City than John Wick. Such as a chase down a winding road on a caravan bus, a throwing of punches in a private jet, or a showdown in a revolving restaurant. Moments that take maximum advantage of their set pieces, and performers’ dexterity, even as their purpose on the script may not completely translate as well to screen.
Behind that is Fletcher’s keen ability to challenge his actors, to utilize their strengths to an adaptable form. If it worked for Taron Egerton to maximize his song-and-dance knack, Evans and de Armas can, in theory, best apply their past experience in franchised action fare toward a more original story using familiar techniques. As a Pitt and Jolie incarnate, they’re plenty capable with electric chemistry. Often acrobatic, and always snide, with a bevy of ironic one-liners. The pair know exactly where the line is between fighting and reconciliation, calling out those oft-disastrous tactics one partner will do to please the other. Cole’s more than guilty of that, and is quick to admit his mistakes, and that spies may not be any better. Eventually, that concept grows as old hat as it does relatable. Anyone hoping to find a more brutally honest exercise of new romance is bound to be disappointed, with all manner of character growth trapped in first gear. It doesn’t blossom as much as their shared chemistry does, a glossed-up magnetism concealing whatever relationship realism isn’t tackled.
To make matters bulkier, Fletcher still has a villainous subplot to weave in and out of. And even with Brody enjoying his moment to pull the “eccentric, mustache twirling baddie card”, minus stache, pacing slows to a screeching halt. The endless red herrings, and a pointless back and forth between the figurehead Leveque, his point man Wagner (Mike Moh), and a legion of buyers who show their harrowing impatience throughout do not help one iota. The way Fletcher keeps signaling back to this structure of evil people, with little deviation, proves stagnating. Too many side characters with little else to do, who stretch out an underdeveloped subplot to its limits, and inevitably cheapen the far superior leading role angle to stock writing? That is a troubling move to play, though not nearly as frustrating when an already vigorous Lorne Balfe (Black Adam) score has to fight for screen time with a series of tortuous needle drops, continuing a recent trend Mario placed under the microscope. Or when random cameos can land a few decent jokes, as well as an annoying eye roll or two. Or when recurring gags, such as the presence of a cactus plant to symbolize low maintenance, or the repeat line “You two should get a room” can only chart viewers’ patience. If these things can’t happen organically, maybe they should be left out of your script.
Cole and Sadie may grow as people, as a couple in love, but their bond can’t muster just as much realism. If only the rigors of their tryst could say more than was written on the page, because what both Evans and de Armas display speaks well beyond words. They’re the right duo for this secret job, even when the rest of their wild adventure lacks the space to portray more than the standard rom-com, playing more for laughs over empathy, particularly when talking about the regret of past exes. It can serve as a reminder of what not to do when starting a relationship, albeit to the craziest heights. But it brushes past how to effectively build one on screen, effusive yet still slightly disjointed. I could still enjoy Ghosted based on the sharpness of its leads, enthusiastically fulfilling Fletcher’s idea of scale and range, and striving to push for that extra mile. And were it not for those few little things weighing down an already imperfect script, it just might have. (C+; 3/5)
Ghosted debuts on Apple TV+ April 21; rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence/action, brief strong language and some sexual content; 117 minutes.