It's been 51 years since 'Topper' lifted audiences to supernatural heights of comedy with its jovial ghosts wreaking havoc on the lives of harried humans. 'High Spirits' just might be Topper's 1988 reincarnation, but added to the ethereal high-jinks are some up-to-date high tech special effects. And the nicest touch of all, Peter O'Toole.
Directed and written by Neil Jordan, 'High Spirits' is the story of how a perfectly miserable American couple named Jack and Sharon, played by Steve Guttenberg and Beverly D'Angelo, vacation to an enchanted Irish castle, and wind up falling in love with an equally mismatched pair of ghosts, played by Daryl Hannah and Liam Neeson.
The reason for their vacation to this very idyllic and dusty castle is the idea of Peter Plunkett, played by O'Toole, the ne'er-do-well drunken heir to the castle who's left it fall into financial wrack and ruin.
In a perfectly inspired moment of inebriation, he comes up with the idea to organize ghost tours of his home for Americans.
Very quickly, 'High Spirits' features Plunkett's feeble efforts to manufacture horrors to an audience whose standard of horror is set by 'Nightmare on Elm Street.' The welcome these tourists get to Castle Plunkett is a hilarious series of quirky Irish humor and slapstick: banshees suspended through the air by all-too-visible ropes, ghostly apparitions ala mirrors and creaking and whirling beds that spiral through the aged floor of the castle to land in a pile of splinters and dust.
The tourists are not amused.
But the real spirits of Castle Plunkett, organized by Plunkett's dead father and called into action by Plunkett's alive, but mostly drunken mother, played deliciously by Liz Smith, know what has to be done and waste no time when they see their ancestor's poor job.
That's when Jack meets the beautiful ghost Mary Plunkett, played by Daryl Hannah, and Sharon meets Mary's departed husband, Martin Brogan, played by Liam Neeson. Sweet Jack draws to sweet Mary, and strong-willed and spunky Sharon is swept off her feet by the wicked but charming Martin.
'High Spirits' tilts drunkenly from one ghostly practical joke to the next, aided by high-tech special visual effects. But somehow, the performances of O'Toole -- who not only gets to turn in a delightful parody of the Irish aristocrat, but serve as master of ceremonies to a castle-ful of spooks, both human and ghostly -- Guttenberg, Hannah, D'Angelo, Neeson and Smith are strictly heavenly. It is a cast perfectly blended to this story of human foibles and eternal love. And best of all, each actor, whether their part is large or small, seems to genuinely enjoy the high-jinks they are helping create.
There isn't a quiet moment in 'High Spirits;' the action swirls and dances and flies in your face and around your head. It leaves you dizzy with laughter.
But like its 1937 ancestor, 'Topper,' 'High Spirits' blends the best of ghost-storytelling, folklore and human nature in a comedy of uncommon fun.
This movie is rated PG-13. Film contains some sexual content.