Producers: David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Chris Evans, Jules Daly, Paul Wernick and  Rhett Reese  Director: Dexter Fletcher   Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers    Cast: Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Amy Sedaris, Tim Blake Nelson, Tate Donovan, Mike Moh, Marwan Kenzari, Anna Deavere Smith, Lizze Broadway, Mustafa Shakir, Israel Vaughn, Burn Gorman, Anthony Mackie, John Cho, Sebastian Stan and Ryan Reynolds    Distributor: Apple TV+

Grade: C-

The leads are attractive but the script is contrived, the banter forced, and the action rote in Dexter Fletcher’s mash-up of rom-com and spy caper.  Even a succession of all-star cameos can’t save “Ghosted,” which mimics plenty of other similar tales of romance budding through shared danger. At one point a character solemnly intones, “This game we play is like no other,” but in truth we’ve seen variations of it many times before.

Cole Turner (Chris Evans) and Sadie Rhodes (Ana de Armas) have the obligatory cute meet at a Farmers Market in Washington D.C.  He’s a wannabe historian who’s moved back in with his parents (Tate Donovan and Amy Sedaris) and younger sister Mattie (Lizze Broadway) to help run the family farm, and she drops by a flower stall he’s temporarily manning to purchase a plant.  After an unfunny altercation over whether she’s home enough to tend one, he decides to take a chance and invite her for coffee.  The meeting turns into a day-long date and a nighttime frolic; he’s utterly smitten.  Too much so, in fact: when she doesn’t answer his barrage of calls and texts and his sister insists he’s being ghosted, he decides to locate Sadie via a tracker on the asthma inhaler he accidentally left in her purse.  (If you find that implausible, be assured worse is yet to come.)

Cole learns that Sadie is in London, and impulsively travels there to reconnect with her.  (The fact that he might reasonably be looked upon as an über-stalker doesn’t deter him.)  He’s immediately accosted by thugs who take him captive, and he awakens to find himself threatened with torture by a guy named Borislov (Tim Blake Nelson, doing a comic villain turn that would have been old-fashioned in 1941), who thinks he’s a CIA agent codenamed Taxman, demands that he reveal a “passcode” he’s supposed to know, and prefers using insects as his instruments of pain.  But he’s saved at the last minute by a kick-ass, fast-shooting masked figure who turns out to be—surprise, surprise!—Sadie, the true Taxman. 

Of course, that will lead to them becoming an unlikely team, though Cole is miffed with Sadie for having told him that she’s an art curator, and she with him for something or other.  It turns out they’re in Pakistan, and the time has come for a big action set-piece, in which they’re attacked in the Khyber Pass by a platoon of motorcycled villains as they careen along treacherous mountain roads in a brightly-colored bus they’ve commandeered.  (Cole, of course, quickly proves himself as adept an action hero as you’d want.)

That’s only the first of such assaults orchestrated by the chief bad-guy of the piece, a French agent gone rogue named Leveque (Adrien Brody, as effete and scenery-smacking a scumbag as you could wish).  He’s in possession of a super-weapon called Aztec, a gizmo that can take control of the world’s computers (the McGuffin of choice in all such espionage movies nowadays) but still requires the passcode that will unlock it so that he can sell it to his prospective buyer Utami (Stephen Park).

Leveque has his own army of thugs, led by Wagner (Mike Moh—his name perhaps a nod to the Russian paramilitary group), but he also puts out a John Wick-style offer to all the world’s hit-men to get the Hitchcockian “wrong man” Turner, whom he believes the Taxman.  That brings in some of the guest stars (Anthony Mackie, John Cho, Sebastian Stan) as arrogant rivals with names like Grandson of Sam and God, but they wipe one another out in a distinctly lame series of sight-gags.  Cole and Sadie are still on the run, with Aztec passing from one side to another and back again until they wind up at CIA headquarters, where, in a twist of surpassing absurdity, Cole is able to figure out the passcode Leveque is seeking through his encyclopedic agronomical expertise.  (The history he wants to write is about the effect of agriculture on the rise and fall of nations.)

In any event they all arrive at a posh revolving restaurant perched atop a spire (think of a combination of Seattle’s Space Needle and Atlanta’s Polaris eatery, or Dallas’ Reunion Tower) where, after some desultory conversation that’s meant to be suspenseful, lots of gunfire and fistfights break out as the gears that turn the establishment go awry and the place turns into something like an out of control merry-go-round.  The entire sequence, in which Ryan Reynolds pointlessly turns up as an old flame of Sadie’s in another limp cameo, can only have been devised as a homage to the finale of “Strangers on a Train” squared; but Hitchcock, cinematographer Robert Burks, editor William Ziegler and special effects man H.F. Koenekampf managed in 1950 to extract more tension and excitement out of merely speeding up the film than Fletcher, cinematographer Salvatore Totino, visual effects supervisor Mike Wassel and editors Chris Lebenzon, Jim May and Josh Schaeffer do with all the high-tech dazzle at their disposal.

Still, their technical work, along with Claude Paré’s production design and Marlene Stewart’s costumes (including soundstage sequences supposedly set in Pakistani streets), is more than adequate if a mite cheesy, and while Lorne Balfe’s score merely blasts the action along, frequently replaced as it is by great swaths of pop songs, it fills the bill.  Evans and de Armas suit their roles, of course, and play the mediocre material as agreeably as they can, though they have trouble selling the lessons their characters are supposed to learn from their joint experience—Sadie not to put the success of a mission above the safety of her partners, Cole to follow his dream (or something like that).  Most of the supporting cast just follow the script’s dictates for good and (mostly) ill, but Marwin Kenzari earns a few chuckles as a one-handed former agent, as does Burn Gorman as a London cabbie.  The “star” cameos are all limp, with Reynolds’ coming off as especially lame.

It will come as no shock that Cole and Sadie wind up together, and a coda suggests they could have further screen adventures.  If that eventuality should come to pass, let’s hope they’ll be significantly cleverer and more exciting than this one.