‘We Have a Ghost’ goes for humor over horror

The laughs are many in spooky Netflix comedy starring David Harbour as the lost soul haunting a family.

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Young Kevin (Jahi Winston, left) tries to help the ethereal Ernest (David Harbour) get out of paranormal limbo in “We Have a Ghost.”

Netflix

Listen, friends, “Cocaine Bear” isn’t the only movie coming out this week with a title telling you what to expect. We also have the Netflix original spooky comedy “We Have a Ghost,” which is about ... yes ... a family that moves into a house and quickly learns the house has a ghost. What I like about this ghost is he’s played by David Harbour — and also, while he haunts the attic just like most movie ghosts, everyone can see this apparition, night and day, inside or outside. This is a ghost who goes VIRAL.

Writer-director Christopher Landon (who penned “Disturbia” and a number of the “Paranormal Activity” movies and directed the “Happy Death Day” films) is a skilled practitioner of horror films that often have strong comedic threads, and this time around he’s leaning even further into the laughs and the family drama element, though “We Have a Ghost” does have a few well-executed jump-scare moments.

“We Have a Ghost” is set in Chicago but was filmed in Louisiana, and I have to say this is one of the least Chicago-looking movies ever set in Chicago, what with the distinctively Southern foliage and also the mountains, and BTW, Chicago TV news stations wouldn’t have slogans saying they’re “SERVING THE GREATER ILLINOIS AREA,” but let’s move forward.

‘We Have a Ghost’

Untitled

Netflix presents a film written and directed by Christopher Landon. Rated PG-13 (for language, some sexual/suggestive references and violence). Running time: 126 minutes. Available Friday on Netflix.

Soon after the Presley family — Anthony Mackie’s Frank, Erica Ash’s Melanie and their sons Fulton (Niles Fitch) and Kevin (Jahi Winston) — moves into a sprawling, creaky house that has seen better days, young Kevin discovers there’s a ghost in the attic. He’s a hulking figure with a bowling shirt emblazoned with the name of “Ernest,” and he tries to scare off Kevin, but the lad just laughs at Ernest while recording him on his phone. Turns out Kevin’s instincts are right; Ernest isn’t a particularly frightening ghost, he’s just a lost soul trapped between life and the afterlife, unable to speak or to remember what happened to him.

Off we go on our adventure. Kevin’s dad, who has spent a lifetime chasing dreams and failing, pounces on this opportunity and sets about turning Ernest into a viral sensation. Jennifer Coolidge has a typically Jennifer Coolidge cameo as a charlatan medium whose TV interview with Ernest goes spectacularly sideways. The always terrific Tig Notaro is Dr. Leslie Monroe, who used to work with the CIA on a secret program that was disbanded because she couldn’t prove ghosts were real — but now there’s a real “live” ghost out there to be captured and studied and exploited!

Only the sensitive Kevin and his new best friend, the equally quirky Joy Yoshino (Isabella Russo), see Ernest for what he truly is: someone who is in great pain and is struggling mightily to understand how he came to be a ghost trapped in limbo for what appears to be decades. Why, it’s almost as if “We Have a Ghost” has similarities to heartfelt adventures like “E.T.”

The special effects are borderline cheesy — though there’s a cool sequence in which Ernest runs in slow motion through an H&R Block office and a tattoo parlor to the sounds of “Words” by Missing Persons — and there are times when “We Have a Ghost” is too corny for its own good, and the reveal about what happened to Ernest is kind of out of left field. Still, the cast is wonderful, the laughs are frequent, and the ending is truly touching. Also, it’s pretty great when young Kevin, who digs classic rock, tells his skeptical father early on that “Terry Kath is one of the greatest guitarists of all time.”

Now THAT’S a legit Chicago reference.

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