There are moments early in Ghosted that feel like a good first date: It’s not perfect, but things are going right, especially compared to all the rom-com washouts we keep meeting on the apps (which is to say, Netflix). Two attractive and charismatic movie stars visibly enjoy each other’s company in genuine, non-green-screened locations around Washington, DC; there’s even a tasteful sex scene! The movie itself gets so overexcited at these simple developments that it writes stupid lines into the screenplay, pointing out the supposed sexual tension between art curator Sadie (Ana de Armas) and humble farmer Cole (Chris Evans). Then again, maybe the movie is just trying to recreate warm feelings of rom-coms past; after all, Nancy Meyers big-ups her own dialogue through minor characters all the time.
Ghosted, as it turns out, is not strictly a romantic comedy. This is not necessarily a dealbreaker, because even at its cutest, it’s rarely funny. No, it belongs to a peculiar subgenre making the rounds on streaming services with money to burn: the vaguely tone-deaf big-star caper revival. Evans and de Armas have already dabbled in it with Netflix’s The Gray Man, and a cast member from Red Notice, which this movie even more closely resembles, makes a cameo here.
What are these cameos about, anyway? Ghosted has a parade of them; some are linked together in an admittedly funny chained running gag, partially predicated on the on-screen history of its most famous star. But this isn’t the only big action-adventure movie to bring in auxiliary stars as a fun surprise, and the net effect is disquieting. Isn’t the whole point of a movie like Ghosted to luxuriate in the glow of the stars right in front of us, not to be impressed by how they know other famous people? It’s as if the movie is providing context clues for the audience to understand that this really is a big Hollywood production. This is not a point that should require clarification.
Reviving the big-star caper is a great idea. Someday, someone should try doing it well. Ghosted has a simple albeit secondhand irresistibility, throwing a not-quite couple into international intrigue. After an unexpectedly wonderful extended first date, Cole – who has been accused in the past of an overbearing neediness – happily anticipates more time with Sadie, a guarded woman who seems to really open up to him. But days later, she hasn’t texted him back, which unfortunately does not dissuade him from texting some more (“emoji stuff doesn’t count,” he insists defensively, in one of the movie’s few funny lines). He reasons, with perhaps unearned hope, that she is simply traveling for work, and impulsively decides to surprise her in London. (The reason he knows her location is faintly ridiculous, but not quite as stalker-y as it sounds.) He’s not entirely wrong: She is busy with work in London… because she works for the CIA, and is embroiled in a plot to intercept a deadly weapon pursued by the dastardly Leveque (Adrien Brody).
The bad guys quickly mistake Cole for the Taxman, a shadowy operative alias actually owned by Sadie. (The latent sexism is amusing, but so uncommented upon in a relentlessly commenting screenplay that you wonder if the filmmakers actually noticed it.) Everyone is looking for the weapon’s passcode, which means that everyone says “passcode” and “Taxman” six-dozen times apiece, alongside screenwriter-beloved espionage clichés like “it’s my only play” and “take him off the board.”
This shouldn’t matter. The point of Ghosted is not to provide insight into the inner workings of the CIA. The point is for Evans and de Armas to look good, bicker through some stressful situations, and fall in love. Though the early scenes’ real locations are quickly abandoned in favor of tunnels and caves, director Dexter Fletcher at least has a sense of kinetic choreography for a sequence where Cole and Sadie (mostly Sadie) must pilot a colorfully janky bus away from a series of driving, jumping, and motorcycling attackers. The movie’s real blunder comes later, as it vastly overestimate the appeal of Cole angrily snapping at how betrayed he feels by Sadie’s entirely understandable lies. It’s hard to bring a romance back around after watching a guy repeatedly call a gal crazy; the supposed counterbalance of Sadie rolling her eyes at Cole’s emotional neediness doesn’t do the job. What a strange misuse of Evans, who can do both snark and sincerity, and here is forced onto a sour middle ground between the two. During its long midsection, Ghosted isn’t romantic, isn’t funny, and doesn’t have much action to speak of. This seems like a mistake for a romantic action-comedy caper.
It also feels like an unforced error to wait a full 90 minutes before prompting de Armas to stroll into the frame wearing a stunning dress and ready to kick ass, like in everyone’s favorite sequence from No Time to Die. The climax of Ghosted has a novel setting – a rotating restaurant gone mad, complete with a bizarre John Wick knockoff – and some moments where its stars click back into sync. But is it as fun, sexy, or well-directed as the Cuba sequence from the Bond movie? No, regrettably, it is not. Ghosted is a little breezier and less blatantly synthetic than the plastic Red Notice or the smirky Gray Man, but put together these failed attempts at action-packed romance still feel like a psy-op for the superhero industrial complex: With star vehicles like these, maybe movie stars will have to stay in capes forever.
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Writer: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Starring: Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Mike Moh
Release Date: April 21, 2023 (Apple TV+)
Jesse Hassenger is associate movies editor at Paste. He also writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including Polygon, Inside Hook, Vulture, and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching or listening to, and which terrifying flavor of Mountain Dew he has most recently consumed.