GHOST TEAM starts strong with its tropes dissecting the ennui, frustration, and quiet desperation to be found in a life of settling rather than one of following a dream. Indeed, there are moments that are so achingly precise in terms of visually translating those emotions for the screen, and in performances that are not so much caricatures as reflecting a trench carved across the gullet of hope, that it almost makes up for a third act that drags when it should soar.
John Heder stars as Louis, the proprietor of a strip-mall copy shop where the hours, days, weeks, months, and blend together in a giant yawn of a life. A chance customer wanting a set of no-trespassing signs for an abandoned, and putatively haunted, property changes all that. At the same time, Louis’ favorite show, Ghost Getters, where every week a crack team of investigators tracks down paranormal activity, announces an open casting call for a new member, and suddenly Louis has a purpose in life. With not experience hunting ghosts or being on television, he throws together his own makeshift team that includes his recently jilted best friend, Stan (David Krumholtz), his snarky nephew, Zac (Paul W. Downs), Zac’s nemesis, Ross (Justin Long), a mall cop with an overweening sense of his job y reflected in an unfortunate haircut that may or may not be a tribute to samurai warriors, and Victoria (Amy Sedaris) a wild-haired television medium of dubious skills but unexpected savviness. It also includes Ellie (Melonie Diaz), a formidably confident woman who raises the personal stakes for Louis beyond the mere finding of ectoplasm or poltergeists.
The best part of GHOST TEAM is the dry wit of the writing as characters bicker, banter, and otherwise fail to have meaningful communication with one another. As Louis exudes the excitement of a chance to do something great, Stan is a glum but somehow endearing schlub with an elaborate theory about why his fiancée ditched him that defies the rule of Occam’s Razor, but not Louis’ patience. While for his part Zac, whose engineering degree is wasted selling electronics in a big-box store, mercilessly heckles Ross’ misplaced gung-ho spirit with the precision of a neurosurgeon taking a scalpel to an overachieving tumor.
When the film works, there is a sparkle in the deadpan humor as well as a nice character study of a misfit band who haven’t found their place in the world yet. Oddly enough, it’s when things heat up in the ghost hunt that the film becomes almost as dull as manning the counter of a copy shop in a small town. After an early sequence early on showing the crushing sameness of existence with a seamless dissolve of action going in metaphorical circles, and all that exemplary badinage, things become painfully cliché as the film becomes a bad riff on found-footage flicks done with a lack of suspense or humor. It’s astounding in its own way.
Until then, and then in a worthy denouement, GHOST TEAM is a pleasant diversion with a film-stealing turn by Long and Downs before turning as pallid as the titular team’s quarry. Close, but no cigar.