Ghost Team One Review [MHHFF 2013]
Flood a spoof movie with an overabundance of jokes and it can only go one of two ways – the jokes either hit or they don’t. However, if you take the time to deliver two engaging leads, not only is there a better chance the gags will be winners, but even if they’re not, the film still packs the momentum to cruise right past them because you care about characters, and so is the case with Ghost Team One.
Despite the fact that their housemate Chuck (Tony Cavalero) is striving to keep sober, Sergio and Brad (Carlos Santos and J.R. Villarreal) take pride in partying to the max and scouting out potential lady friends for flings. However, one night, their hobbies are entirely warped by two new presences in the home – a ghost and a hot girl who just so happens to have a thing for hunting ghosts. In an effort to make contact with their newfound paranormal roommate and impress Fernanda (Fernanda Romero), Sergio and Brad create Ghost Team One.
Per usual, this spoof movie is overloaded with crude humor, but Santos and Villarreal create such likable leads that Ghost Team One becomes much more than one big joke.
Brad is the outrageous, girl-crazy guy with no filter. Sergio, on the other hand, knows when to put the bottle down and do whatever it takes to win over the girl of his dreams. Even though the guys are on two entirely different wavelengths, especially when it comes to going after Fernanda, they’re undeniably compatible and a joy to be around.
All movies benefit from strong performances, but found footage films depend on highly natural acting work and, in that respect, Santos and Villarreal absolutely nail it. Both turn their characters into living, breathing, believable human beings with enough eccentric flaws to keep you entertained, but also the appropriate amount of heart to make you care. Brad’s a womanizer, but he’s also one big teddy bear. It isn’t cool for Brad to go after Fernanda while he’s seemingly dating Becky (Meghan Falcone), but between the hilarity of the scenario and the charm of his naivety, Brad becomes one of those friends who can get away with anything by leaving you thinking, ‘Oh, that’s just Brad!’
And that makes Brad and Sergio the ideal pairing. Had Ghost Team One featured two Brad-like characters, the film undoubtedly would have suffered from an excess of immature humor, however, Sergio serves as the perfect balance. Sergio does his fair share of drinking and flirting, but he’s definitely the more responsible of the two. While Brad’s simply after Fernanda for the sake of the conquest, Sergio’s got a very serious crush on her. But even then, that doesn’t mean it’s as simple as rooting for Sergio to get the girl.
Fernanda is gorgeous and kind, but she’s also strange. The audience knows it and so does Sergio, and that makes for a particularly unique big screen relationship. You want Sergio to come out on top and lock in his one true love, but at the same time, Fernanda clearly isn’t that one true love, so, rather than bog the narrative down when Sergio hits a snag in the courting process, more often than not, his failures result in lighthearted and unique laughs.
A good deal of the film’s comedic winners come directly from Santos, Villarreal, and the superb editing. Not every joke works, but none fall distractingly flat for three reasons – first, Santos and Villarreal have absolutely impeccable comedic timing, second, the duo never breaks character so even when a gag isn’t laugh-out-loud-worthy, it still feels natural, and third, every single cut in the film facilitates the humor. There are countless instances where just a second of dead air could have ruined a moment, but nearly every single edit in Ghost Team One serves a purpose, whether it’s to give a joke a moment to land or keep up the energetic pace.
It’s a good thing Ghost Team One moves along so well because too many chances to stop and think could have been detrimental. As we’ve seen one too many times in the found footage genre, the shaky cam perspective doesn’t make all that much sense. Sergio randomly decides to start filming a party one night and then, after suspecting there’s a ghost in the house, randomly decides to make a documentary about that ghost. Then, of course, Sergio randomly recruits a mute friend to man another camera so we can get some decent two-shots of Sergio and Brad.
Another frequent found footage issue that pops up time and time again in Ghost Team One is inexplicable cutting. There are quite a few instances where a character delivers one bit of dialogue and we’ll be watching him or her say that line in its entirety from one perspective, but, out of nowhere, there’s a jump cut of sorts where that same shot will skip forward a second or two. As far as the audio goes, the line is delivered fully, but, based on what we see on screen, a word or two should be missing.
Then of course there’s the totally nonsensical nature of the ghost story. Brad and Sergio’s new paranormal pal, Lady Azalea, is a downright ridiculous evil entity, but there are more than enough strong jokes surrounding her lore and current situation to make it work. The noticeably weak points of the script involve Fernanda. It’s revealed that Fernanda has an agenda of her own and while that agenda does wind up with a wildly amusing payoff, during the course of the movie, Fernanda’s true intentions aren’t strong enough to make much of an impact.
Cavalero also deserves a mention for giving his all to what may be one of the most exhausting, schizophrenic performances in history. Chuck goes from crazy to sane to a new breed of crazy and back again. It’s exceedingly over-the-top, but it melds well enough with the other elements of the narrative and involves a number of truly unforgettable moments.
The trouble with the large majority of spoof movies is the lack of character development. You don’t have to believe a character for a joke to work, but if that character does feel real, that moment will still have value. Not every gag in Ghost Team One earns a laugh, but the film still makes for a wholly entertaining experience because writers Andrew Knauer and Arthur Pielli make both humor and the characters top priorities, resulting in a piece in which one always serves the other.
Rather than going straight for the laughs and only the laughs, Ghost Team One delivers two well developed, likable characters that turn the film into an effective narrative capable of sustaining the best and worst of its comedic repertoire.