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'Darby and the Dead' review: Teenage comedy has no spirit

Courtesy of Hulu


Teenage comedies centered around the permieraters of the living and the dead aren't anything new: from “Jennifer’s Body.” “The Babysitter” and, to a lesser extent, the recent “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” it’s a medium that can be exploited and re-tooled for any generation. Enter “Darby and the Dead,” the latest addition to the genre that doesn’t try anything noteworthy nor does it have an ounce of appreciation for the characters it introduces. It’s evident writer Becca Greene and director Silas Howard have seen movies where teens communicate with the afterlife, but their lazy attempts at spinning the narrative into the same yarn that made “Mean Girls,” “Bring it On” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” major hits, only highlights everything wrong with this movie: it’s not funny, and worse, it’s completely forgettable. 

The filmmakers have missed the wagon on what made those movies cheeky and hilarious, and with the new mandate to create content at accelerated rates, quality doesn’t matter so much as people stay subscribed to whatever streaming service it lands on. The movie follows Darby (Riele Downs), a quick-witted high schooler who, after she had a near death experience when she was younger, is blessed with the ability to see and communicate with those beyond the grave. She even has Friday night office hours where she helps dead folks complete their unfinished business so they can move on from the land of the living. Where have we heard that before?!  

Darby has dedicated her life to the cause and when she’s not spending time with her single dad (played by a laughably underused Derek Luke), she’s keeping a low profile at school while juggling the daily turmoils of being an in-demand clairvoyant. But once popular cheerleader Capri (“Moana” breakout Auli’i Cravalho) kicks the bucket (after an unfortunate hair curling electrocution) and realizes Darby can still see her, all bets are off. What was once a fulfilling gig for Darby now becomes a tedious exercise as the overbearing Capri wants to stick around long enough to make sure her own memorial becomes the hottest ticket in town. Think “My Sweet 16” crossed with “The Sixth Sense.” 

Even though Darby would much rather stay out of the spotlight and chat with her two friendly ghost pals (played by Tony Danza and Wayne Knight), she agrees to help Capri so they both can move on. Naturally, this means Darby has to woo Capri’s squad and become a cheerleader while upping her Instagram selfie cred, and flirting with the jocks in school. This also means she’ll have to blow off the one guy she actually likes (Chosen Jacobs of “It” fame). 

It won’t take a fortune teller to ascertain where “Darby and the Dead” lands, with lessons of self-love, gratitude, and compassion all woven into the screenplay as if they were bullet points on a spreadsheet. As the movie will say, there’s no value in chasing materialistic things and sacrificing your true-self for popularity points and, in case you didn’t already know, social media is a tool to make people feel insecure about themselves. “Darby and the Dead” squanders a promising story idea by Wenonah Wilms in favor of a movie that’s so ironically fixated on the dead, it forgets to have a soul. 

Grade: D- 

DARBY AND THE DEAD debuts on Hulu Friday, December 2nd. 


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