Previously known as Ghosts Of Mississippi (the title was changed for the six or seven Europeans who don't know Mississippi's an American state), Ghosts From The Past begins with a shocking murder and ends with an equally unspeakable dose of courtroom drama. The intervening two hours are turgid proof that even Rob Reiner, the man who brought us the orgasmic pleasure of When Harry Met Sally and the ""You can't handle the truth"" power of A Few Good Men, sometimes has a bad day at the office. It's a story that should be riveting: here it becomes a dull school history lesson.
Things start off well enough, with a busy opening half-hour that whisks you through the cold-blooded shooting of Evers by De La Beckwith (Woods), and the two sham trials that reveal '60s racism at its ugliest. It's calculated to make your blood boil, and it does.
But as soon as we leap forward to 1989, when Evers' widow (Goldberg) persuades DeLaughter (Baldwin) to reopen the case, Reiner's storytelling problems begin to pile up. For two years, the real DeLaughter sifted through the evidence and here the audience watches Baldwin's life fall apart as he gets closer to the truth; we see his wife (Madsen) walking out on him; we witness assorted dumbass rednecks threatening his life. It should be gripping stuff, but it isn't.
Why? Part of the problem is the film's lack of mystery. Last year's cracking Lone Star had a not dissimilar plotline - - a sheriff investigating a 30-year-old murder while trying to resolve personal dilemmas - - but in Ghosts we know whodunnit from the very first scene. In fact, De La Beckwith's retrial is little more than a recap for the hard of plot-following, most of the witnesses simply repeating what they told DeLaughter earlier.
Baldwin is the weakest link. You're onto a winner when he plays a seductive son of a bitch (Malice, The Getaway), but as a righteous family man he's a fish out of murky water; the scenes in which he lectures his three kids on the merits of good above evil make you want to hurl. Meanwhile, all Goldberg gets to do is give him a hard time over the phone.
Woods is the only thing you'll recall about this film a week after you see it, and that can't be right. Mississippi Burning has become Mississippi Boring.
Clunky, overlong racism-in-the-American-South drama - - a sub-standard Mississippi Burning. Only the Oscar-nominated James Woods emerges with any credit. Ultimately, Ghosts fails to convey just how fascinating its real-life story is.