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Charlie's Ghost: The Secret Of Coronado
(a.k.a. Charlie's Ghost Story)
(1995)

Director: Anthony Edwards
Cast:
Trenton Knight, Anthony Edwards, Cheech Marin


It's certainly been a long time since I was a kid. When I try to think back to what life was like for me as a kid all of those years ago, quite often my memories become quite fuzzy, or I am unable to remember at all a certain detail or two. Actually, I think many of those unclear memories are due in part to embarrassment regarding what my tastes were like all those years ago. When I think about the music that I liked, the television shows that I used to watch, and even when it came to moviegoing, I sincerely hope that there is indeed no such thing as mind reading so that no one around me can sense my recollections of my childhood and my more often than not internal cringe at those particular recollections. But whenever I think back to my childhood years with the preparedness of enough mental fortitude not to subsequently cringe, I find that a lot of the stuff that mattered to me most as a kid matters a lot to me even as an adult, though often of course in different forms. For example, one thing that meant a great deal to me as a kid was the ability to play, something I also like to do on occasion as an adult. Probably that was the same for you too, though I have a feeling that like me there are certain games like the ones reserved for playground equipment that you no longer engage in. Another thing that mattered to me was delicious food. Some foods I enjoyed back then, like pizza and hamburgers, I still enjoy today, though thankfully I have widened my tastes and can find pleasure in something like sweet and sour pork. Living space was also important. Having my own room as a kid was a great deal, and it's even better as an adult to have your very own apartment.

But there is one thing as a kid that I desired as much as an adult that I want to discuss, and that is to have an adequate supply of friends. Just think about it for a little bit - just about everyone from the young to the old desires some sort of companionship, to have someone they can exchange ideas with and bond with over various activities. I can tell you that when I was a kid, this was something that I really wanted, but because I was as oddball back then as I am now, friends back then were few and far between. With this desire for friends that just about everyone has, it comes as no surprise that there have been a great deal of movies that have dealt with friendships. However, when it comes to family films, there is a certain phenomenon seen more than with movies concerning adult to adult friendships. And that is unusual kinds of friendships. Sure, there are movies like Kenny & Company that deal with realistic kid to kid relationships. But there are a great deal of family movies to be found that deal with fantastic relationships. For example, the family movie The Golden Seal was about a friendship between a seal and a human child. Then there was the family movie Star Kid, which at its core was a relationship that grew between a young boy and an exoskeleton robotic suit with artificial intelligence. Adventures In Dinosaur City had human kids and dinosaurs with high intelligence strike up a friendship. And we can certainly not forget the most famous example of an unusual friendship a child had in a movie, that being E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.

The most obvious question to be asked about this observation in the world of family movies is why family filmmakers like to portray human kids in their movies with such unusual friendships I think the answer is pretty obvious: It's a heck of a lot more interesting to kids than seeing Charlie's Ghost: The Secret Of Coronadoa typical human-to-human cinematic friendship, something that they see around themselves all the time in real life. A kid who sits down to watch a movie more likely than not wants to see something different, something fantastic in nature. Certainly when I was a kid, I wanted to see in movies something that was to a significant degree not like my ordinary life. In fact, that's often what I seek out when I want to watch a movie as an adult today. When I came across a copy of the family movie Charlie's Ghost: The Secret Of Coronado, it obviously had such a fantastic element to it. However, it involved a ghost, and if you remember my feelings about how ghosts are often portrayed in movies from past reviews, you may understand why I dreaded the possibility of seeing more stupid behavior on the part of the human characters. But the DVD was cheap, and I was desperate to find something to review, so I brought the movie home. Here's the plot description from the back of the DVD box: "Charlie's father (Edwards, Revenge Of The Nerds), an archaeologist and a workaholic at the museum, just discovered the ancient bones of the legendary conquistador, Coronado. One night while waiting for his father, Charlie (Knight, Forest Warrior) comes face to face with the ghost of Coronado (Marin, Up In Smoke) himself. Coronado insists that Charlie help bury his bones on hallowed ground. Charlie, already burdened with his fair share of problems, doesn't want anything to do with a ghost. Finally, hounded by the pesky Coronado, Charlie relents and promises to help sneak the bones out of the museum. Charlie embarks on an adventure of a lifetime with his new friend... a ghost!"

If you remember way back when I reviewed the ghost comedy O'Hara's Wife, you will remember I brought up something that really annoys me about many light-hearted ghost movies. And that being that both the ghosts and the living mortals in the movie that see the ghosts tend to be very stupid. I can easily think of how I would convince other mortals that there was a ghost in my life without coming across as crazy. And if I were a ghost, I'd know how to convince multiple mortals that I existed. But in movies, ghosts and mortals are usually too stupid to figure these things out. My hopes for intelligent mortals and ghosts were not high for Charlie's Ghost: The Secret Of Coronado, since the movie was aimed primarily at children. So I wasn't surprised that the movie did contain a good amount of stupidity about the whole ghost issue, though I have to admit it wasn't quite as intense as I feared. When it comes to the character of Charlie, the movie is slightly smarter than expected. While the character is a child, he does manage to catch on pretty quickly that the character of Coronado is a ghost that only he can see and hear. So he does his best to keep Coronado a secret and tries not to come across as a crazy person. Charlie does slip up now and then, like when he's walking down the street while having a conversation with Coronado, a sight that has observers thinking he is crazy. But such slip-ups do come across as believable and not from the mind of an idiot child. Also, Charlie does ask during the course of the movie some obvious questions to his ghostly friend, like why Coronado doesn't just fly off to "ghost world". In the end, Charlie is a character that doesn't insult the intelligence of either children or adult viewers, and is a refreshing change from the usual idiotic mortals found in ghost comedies.

As for the character of the ghostly Coronado, well, that is different. It is established pretty early on that he can manipulate objects, from turning on television sets to bringing up a stiff breeze. So it becomes a question as to why he doesn't just go to the museum, pick up his own bones, and take them to the local cemetery for burial. It's also a question as to why he just reveals himself to Charlie and not anyone else. Charlie actually asks this question, and Coronado replies, "Because it's you I've chosen to help me." Why did Coronado choose Charlie? We never get an answer to this. Nor to a number of other questions, like why Coronado puts on a spook show to scare away some kids bullying Charlie, but when Charlie's father walks in right afterwards, Coronado doesn't do a thing to help Charlie explain what just happened. In fairness, not everything about this ghost is so stupid. The movie does show on a few occasions Coronado experiencing modern technology that at first confuses him a little, but does show Coronado quickly catching on to it. More importantly, the screenplay makes him a very likable character despite those aforementioned flaws. Though he does want Charlie to take a big risk by getting his bones, time is given to show other sides to this character. We see him express regret, get excited, and show warmth to his new young friend. But I think a big key that makes this character so amiable is the performance given by Cheech Marin in the role. As you might expect with such a comic legend in the role, Marin doesn't take the role with complete seriousness. He often puts a comic spark into his words and actions, though wisely not too much of one - that would have made the character an annoying goofball. And when the situation becomes serious, Marin does well in these scenes as well, generating sympathy from the audience. And he generates some real chemistry with his young co-star Trenton Knight, in part because Knight also makes his character down to earth as well as not irritatingly precocious like child actors in many other family films.

As for the other key members in the cast, they are for the most part pretty forgettable. Linda Fiorentino (The Last Seduction) makes a few appearances as the family maid that could have been easily cut out of the movie. Anthony Edwards apparently took the neglectful side of his character to heart since he doesn't put any real color in his performance, even during a situation when his character should show real emotion. This might have been because Charlie's Ghost also happened to be Edwards' directorial debut, and this extra work may have distracted him from giving a strong performance. But in the end, it doesn't seem that Edwards put in enough work in the director's chair as well. While I was glad that Edwards didn't put the modern and familiar in-your-face kind of tone to this family movie, I certainly was expecting something with a little more energy. Certainly he was hampered by the screenplay; even though the movie runs only eighty-eight minutes long, it seems at times somewhat padded (more than a third of the movie passes before Charlie and Coronado first engage in conversation.) And he was also confined with a low budget that makes every scene look pretty cheap and tacky. But the real problem Edwards has in the director's chair is the general tone of the movie. The movie doesn't just feel slow; a great deal of it also feels depressing. There is very little joy or excitement to be felt. Edwards seems focused on showing the crumbling relationship between his workaholic character and his character's child instead of the whole ghost aspect. These scenes are so solemn and lack any comic relief that they drain out of the movie the limited fun that is generated by Marin and Knight, so much so that the eventual "happy ending" feels false and unearned. I cannot help but feel that when Anthony Edwards passes on, his spirit will find some unsuspecting child of a Lions Gate Films executive, and will ask the child to steal and bury the negative of Charlie's Ghost so that he can rest in peace.

(Posted May 20, 2019)

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See also: The Golden Seal, Kenny & Company, O'Hara's Wife

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