`Ghost Dad:' Best News Is It's Short

X 1/2 ``Ghost Dad,'' with Bill Cosby, Kimberley Russell, Denise Nicholas, Ian Bannen. Directed by Sidney Poitier, from a script by Chris Reese, Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson. City Centre, Crossroads, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kirkland Parkplace, Lewis & Clark, Seatac Mall Cinemas. ``PG'' - Parental guidance advised, due to language.

Last weekend, ``Ghost Dad'' was the movie they couldn't give away. Even at a free, open-to-the-public sneak preview at the City Centre Cinemas, this alleged comedy played to less than a full house.

Maybe the infamy of the last Bill Cosby bomb, ``Leonard, Part 6,'' kept people away. Maybe audiences just have an instinct for these things. ``Ghost Dad'' may be the dumbest major-studio movie of this none-too-bright summer.

Cast as a father not unlike the man he plays on network television every week, Cosby's character can't balance his personal and professional lives while he's alive, and they're even more of a mess when he apparently dies in a freak car accident. However, his ghost is able to communicate with the living, help out his children and even appear in his offices to close an important business deal.

The best ghost fantasies establish their own rules and stick by them. ``Ghost Dad'' doesn't even try. Sometimes Cosby's clothes are visible while he's not; sometimes they're both invisible. Sometimes he can't speak; sometimes he can. Sometimes he's a non-corporeal spirit who levitates, flies and walks through walls; sometimes he's enough of a physical presence to beat up on his daughter's rude boyfriend.

From ``Blithe Spirit'' through ``Beetlejuice,'' even the most whimsical ghost movies usually come to terms with the fact that everyone dies. The creators of ``Ghost Dad'' can't seem to bear the thought; they conclude with an upbeat ending that's as clumsy as the special effects.

Perhaps none of this would matter if the movie had some laughs. But Cosby strains for the few he gets - all of them involving his attempts to scare the boyfriend and a snotty next-door neighbor - and too many of the gags are too stupid to contemplate. Does anyone really care to see how a ghost manages to fake a urine sample during a medical exam?

The director, Sidney Poitier, paces and stages everything like a bad television sitcom. This fine actor is simply not a gifted filmmaker, as ``A Piece of the Action,'' ``Fast Forward'' and the unwatchable ``Hanky Panky'' proved years ago. The best that can be said of his efforts this time is that he keeps the running time to less than 90 minutes.