‘Blithe Spirit’ Review: Dead, but Not Loving It

A comedy that’s more screw-loose than screwball, Edward Hall’s “Blithe Spirit,” a ludicrous adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1941 stage play, reimagines its source material as little more than a slip-and-fall farce.

Dan Stevens stars as Charles, a near-parody of a blocked writer who’s introduced literally eating the words he has just typed. Commissioned to write a screenplay of one of his best-selling novels, Charles is desperate: Bedeviled by bedroom dysfunction (“Big Ben’s stopped chiming,” he whines to a friend), he hopes to find inspiration by inviting a disgraced psychic (Judi Dench) to host a séance in his imposing Art Deco mansion.

What gets released, though, is not what Charles expects as the ghost of his first wife, Elvira (Leslie Mann), killed in a riding accident years earlier, moves in and takes umbrage at her replacement (Isla Fisher). Elvira, visible only to Charles and the audience, and blessed with a well-stocked ghostly wardrobe, is anything but blithe: Wrecking the garden and throwing knives at the help, she proves as hard to get rid of — and about as entertaining — as black mold.

Propelled by tiresome characters and tortured setups, “Blithe Spirit” (originally filmed by David Lean in 1945) is a dated curiosity. Merging upper-crust twittery with hocus-pocus nonsense not even Dench can sell, the dialogue encourages Elvira to nag and everyone to over-emote. Surplus buffoonery and a new ending add nothing to the original, leaving us with a movie that obsesses over death while showing all too few signs of life.

Blithe Spirit
Rated PG-13 for spiked drinks and saucy dialogue. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play and Vudu. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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