‘Casper’: Still Fine Film Regardless Of Flaws

The Plot:

Childhood cartoon-classic Casper is now three dimensional and all alone. Stuck in the creepy curtains of Whipstaff manor in Maine, with his annoying ever-demanding uncles providing little genuine company, the friendly ghost has lost all hope of finding someone to actually be friendly to. But when a self-proclaimed ghost therapist and his teenage daughter Kat are hired to rid the manner of its ill-mannered ghosts by the bitter heir of the property, things begin to look up for the spirited protagonist. But the new property owner is gunning for treasure and wants Casper and Co. out of Whipstaff at any cost. The closer the owner gets to the loot, the closer Casper and Kat get to each other. With time running out, Casper must figure out how to keep his new companion and rid Whipstaff of the true tortured soul, or risk losing his favorite fleshy friend forever. Welcome to Casper.

The Review:

I remember being around 11 and waiting for my mom to come home from that ancient institution, Blockbuster; an archive of cinematic artifacts called VHS. She had promised my brother and me a video each upon her return. I can recall my hands beginning to shake with excitement and my pulse skyrocketing. I’ve always been a passionate film lover since I can remember and the thought of experiencing a new cinematic adventure always had my Spidey senses tingling. When she returned, my brother got Adam Marcus‘s vastly-underrated 1993 Friday the 13th sequel Jason Goes to Hell; I received the recent big-screen adaptation of Casper. Originally, I was upset. Didn’t this woman know I should be getting the New Line produced slasher sequel? Well Deadites, I’m glad she didn’t. The film went on to become one of my childhood favorites and revisiting it has been a blast from the past. So let’s spook a living one, inhabit a condemned mega mansion, and take care of a little unfinished business as I review the 1995 haunted kid tale, Brad Silberling’s Casper.

The Direction:

Brad Silberling directs Casper with little style and by-the-numbers accuracy. Whereas the film isn’t choppy, the picture isn’t well versed in cinematic language either. There are only a few shots in the movie that are using the camera like an AK on the battlefield.

One particular well-executed shot comes early in the film, when mega-villain Carrigan is attempting to rid the mansion of Casper and his trio of frightening family members. The shot opens with a wreaking ball (Miley Cyrus eat your achey-breaky heart out). As the ball enters frame, the camera begins to slowly pull back, showing the construction workers trying to tear the place down. The camera stops when our main villain is in full frame. She’s leaning on her car. She’s smoking. What a bad woman. The camera then raises as a loud shriek is heard, showing the workers run out of the house in fear. This is a well established crane shot and I loved it.

Then there’s the film’s many laughs. While it’s also attributed to the script and the producers, it should be noted how the filmmaker lets the comedy breathe here and how this informs the tone of the piece. Silberling, who’s also known for the 1998 Nicolas Cage film City of Angles and the 2004 Jim Carrey vehicle Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events, pulls a smart card out of the cinematic deck with the comedy and the film is much better for it. Not only are Casper’s uncles a riot from start to finish, with the comedy coming off as adult as much as it is adolescent, there’s a cameo by actor Dan Akroyd in his full Ghostbuster get up that is amazing. It’s stuff like this that make moments in Casper ahead of its time.

The Acting:

The acting of any picture can be critical to the film’s overall success. While good acting doesn’t make a good film, a good performance can elevate a film into new imaginative heights. Sadly, Casper isn’t an actor’s movie. There simply isn’t enough time and detail to the script. With the plot moving at an otherwise enjoyable pace, there aren’t any moments where an actor can get intimate with the lens with a monologue and do some series acting. I can’t complain too much, it is a property film from the 1990s we’re talking about. With that said, lets kick these amps up to 11 and get down to the thespian goodness of Casper.

Hands down, Cathy Moriarty is delivering the strongest performance in the picture. Portraying the villainous and shrewd Carrigan Crittenden, Moriarty is delivering a performance that’s easy to despise. The woman is the epitome of a female dog. In fact, the woman’s called a bitch a few times in the picture; that’s how good Moriarty is at the mean game. With little screen time, mainly due to the films confusion of focus in the second and third acts at the script level, what the actress does with little time is delicious. Moriarty, who worked on Martin Scorsese’s 1980 boxing epic Raging Bull as her first feature film, doesn’t waste a second and successfully manages to get under the skin of the viewer. Simply put, the audience will love to hate her.

Another strong performance in the ghostly feature is 80s main-stay Bill Pullman. Playing loving father and often ridiculed ghost therapist Dr. James Harvey, Pullman is a class act as the father in search of his other half. What makes his performance so good is how the drive and defeat are there within the man simultaneously. As if the doctor is almost to the point of giving up trying to connect with his wife, but has the drive to keep going when the chips are down. I really enjoyed Pullman in the film, and his chemistry with actress Christina Ricci is palpable.

Then there’s Kat herself. Played effectively by actress Christina Ricci, what I loved about the her role is her ability to play off absolutely nothing in the many scenes she has with Casper. Actor Pullman does this as well, but Ricci has to pull it off in many more scenes. There’s a considerable age difference as well, with Ricci work in the film foreshadowing the future the fine actress would have.

The Script:

Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver are a bit of a mixed bag. While the film is gut busting hilarious at times, often coming off with the personality of a movie made today, other parts of the script could have used more nurturing. Let’s discuss what did work, then get to the nasty parts of this somewhat childish script.

When the film opens, the first act of the script is as solid as a bowling ball at your local cigarette smoke filled bowling alley. Right off the bat, the script gets two narrative rules right almost instantly: establish character motives and set up your big bad. Within 15-20 minutes of screen time, we already know what most characters want and those desires are wholly believable.

Carrigan is lead by greed, with Whipstaff being her last attempt to get a cent out of her father’s estate. This is early on, setting up the villain who cares only about herself and material things. We meet her before any other character, sans the friendly ghost himself. Dr. Harvey is driven by his passion of ghost medicine, and by the possibly of using that scholastic interest to reach his deceased wife. Casper and Kat just want a connection to in a world that’s uncertain. While this is enjoyable, the film becomes a fickle house of cards waiting to fall.

All I Want Is A Friend-Casper

The script takes a turn for the worse when our ghost-hunting family actually gets unpacked in Whipstaff. This is the point where the script’s narrative starts pulling its characters in different directions and leaving the film in a jumbled mess. While it could be argued that all the characters are involved within the same plot, in actuality the film begins to question who the protagonist really is. Not properly latching to the journey of a single protagonist is harmful to almost every script ever written or produced. Here, the film wants to be a satisfying conclusion to Casper, Kat, Dr. Harvey. While the ending is satisfying, the results come off a little under cooked.

The Verdict:

Ultimately, Casper is worth a watch. While the film didn’t have the same affect on me as it did in my youth, it’s still worth a few good laughs if nothing else. There are some genuine, well-earned moments in the film, even if the end is a little confused. Just don’t expect the experience to be scary or magical and you should enjoy yourself. So go grab a spooky copy, if you can stand a feature-length stay at Whipstaff. Deadites, you’ve been informed.

The Grade: C

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