Picks and Pans Review: The Frighteners

updated 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace Stone

For a few amusing moments it looks as if this lame comedy is going to spoof our national epidemic of credulity, as manifested in such tributes to wishful thinking as Ghost, Poltergeist and The X-Files. But then director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures) loses his nerve, and The Frighteners peters out into a run-of-the-cemetery horror film.

Fox plays a psychic investigator and con man who shows up in Fairwater, a coastal northeastern town where he keeps running into the specter of Death, all done up in a red cape and toting a scythe. He also meets Combs, who as an FBI agent seems to be sending up both David Duchovny's punctiliously wussy X-Files investigator and Jim Carrey's reliance on exorbitant mannerisms.

While the film fails to mine the rich satiric possibilities of America's obsession with the paranormal, the script does touch on our overorganized culture, with a black ghost who is a leader of the AAAC—the Afro-American Apparition Coalition. At the movie's heart, though, there's a void. Ghostbusters, High Spirits and even Abbott and Costello's Hold That Ghost all exorcised our society's specious demons in more entertaining fashion. (R)

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