Immaterial Affections

Hollywood's definition of a perfect couple is a man and a woman, one of I whom is dead. How else to explain the preponderance of ghostly love stories haunting the screen? Now, just six months after Richard Dreyfuss returned from heaven to voyeuristically snoop on his mate in "Always," here's the ghostly Patrick Swayze mooning over his grieving girlfriend, Demi Moore, in Ghost. Swayze, a corporate banker, has just been killed by a New York mugger, but his spirit is still hanging around his Tribeca loft when he I discovers Moore's life is in danger. How can he save her when he's immaterial? Enter Whoopi Goldberg as Sister Oda Mae Brown, a quack spiritual adviser. Imagine her surprise, after years of faking communication with the dead, when this white boy starts talking to her from beyond the grave, and won't leave her in peace until she gets involved in saving Demi--and helping Patrick track down the man who murdered him.

A comedy, romance and supernatural thriller rolled into one, "Ghost" is a zippy pastiche that somehow manages to seem fresh even though it's built entirely out of borrowed parts. Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin is a clever magpie: he's raided every genre to create this seductive, funny hybrid, but he's done his job with a witty, light touch. "Ghost" becomes resistible only at the finish line, when the sappiness gets a bit out of control. Who ya gonna call, schmaltz busters?

Director Jerry Zucker, part of the ZAZ team who made "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun," navigates the preposterous plot twists and careening mood swings with speed and confidence (and strong support from editor Walter Murch). It's not surprising that Zucker can make us laugh (thank God Whoopi finally has a part that lets her strut her best stuff) but who knew he'd be good at the sexy, poignant stuff? The hunky Swayze may not be everybody's idea of a banker, dead or alive, but he and Moore (who's never been more appealing) make sweet chemistry together. Newcomer Tony Goldwyn is disarming as Swayze's best friend and banking colleague, and Bruce Jarchow has a wonderful bit as a perplexed bank officer Whoopi has to con into turning over $4 million. If such a thing as a sleeper exists in this big hype season, "Ghost" may be it.