High Spirits (Tri-Star, 1988)

There are few moments in film viewing quite as satisfying as reintroducing oneself to a favorite from younger days and falling in love with the movie all over again. There are few moments in film viewing quite as aggravating as reintroducing oneself to a favorite from younger days and being forced to ask oneself "What the hell was I thinking?"

Guess which category High Spirits falls into?

All right, I admit that I'm a huge fan of Peter O'Toole, and likely to give even the shoddiest movie the benefit of the doubt if he happens to star in it. But, as Peter Plunkett, impoverished Irish castle-dweller trying to save his ancestral home from foreclosure by faking hauntings to attract tourists, O'Toole misses his mark by so much that I'm surprised the camera could find him. His tippling semi-loser Plunkett is so lackluster that frequently he seems as though he's about to fall asleep.

Beverly D'Angelo is nicely spiteful as the self-absorbed American Sharon, who is pretending to be a tourist but is actually spying for her father (he holds the mortgage on Castle Plunkett). As her husband Jack, Steve Guttenberg is so wimpy and utterly lacking in redeeming charm that it's actually satisfying to see him henpecked by his nasty wife. When he falls in love with a real castle ghost, Mary (Daryl Hannah), he remains so whiny and ineffectual that even a delicate ectoplasmic apparition of a woman supposedly two centuries old seems more macho.

When the ghost of Mary's husband Martin (Liam Neeson, and what the hell was he thinking?) falls in love with Jack's shrewish wife, there are now two mortals with spectral lovers who need a solution. That the solution is incredibly stupid and ignores any known folklore regarding ghosts apparently escaped me when I first enjoyed this film.

Peter Gallagher as a seminarian on a last trip before taking his priestly vows and Jennifer Tilly as a tart who has "sworn off men" (until she meets the hunky seminarian, of course) are supposed to add another sexy twist. But please. OK, I'll admit that the demonic nuns, who attack Gallagher while he's in the midst of impure thoughts, are still fun. But that would be, let me see, about 15 seconds of the movie? Please. The rest of the cast are dull beyond belief and, judging from their acting prowess, some of the players could have been recruited off of street corners and handed scripts just prior to filming.

There are a few real laughs to be had while watching High Spirits. Daryl Hannah's atrocious Irish accent definitely provides some comic relief. The "special effects" are sketchy, though some are supposed to be, since they represent trickery on the part of the castle staff. Still, even the supposedly "real" effects are fairly laughable. The jokes fall flat, and the dramatic moments are silly.

Neil (what the hell was he thinking?) Jordan wrote and directed this mess. How the same man who brought us such films as The Company of Wolves, The Crying Game, and Interview With a Vampire could have been responsible for this dreck is beyond me. Maybe he was drunk. Wait a minute; that might explain why I liked this movie when I first saw it. I did go to a lot of parties back in college...

[Maria Nutick]