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BILL COSBY and SidneyPoitier have finally seen the writing on the wall -- and they're cashing in on it. They use a familiar formula (Cosby as a family man), add plenty of comedy and special effects, a heartwarming story and all the physical humor that shows Cosby at his best. The result is the comedy "Ghost Dad."

It's rated PG although it has little or no offensive material, and is playing in the Eastern Hills, Hoyts Walden Galleria, Market Arcade and University theaters.

According to the story, Elliott Hopper (Cosby), a widower and father of three children, is involved in a serious car accident and passes on, though just barely, to another world. I say just barely because he buys three days' time from Sir Edith Moser (Ian Bannen), the "intercorporeal maltransference expert."

Elliott intends to set his financial house in order during this time. He learns that in death, as in life, this conflicts with his responsibility as a loving, nurturing father. He learns his lesson, sets his priorities in order and they all live happily ever after.

The story by Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson ("Short Circuit," "Batteries Not Included," "The Land Before Time") is simple, yet effective. It has wonderful gags, especially the crazy cabbie and the insurance physical. It also yanks at the heartstrings from time to time and resorts to mush for an ending. However, the comedy is fast, reliable and keeps the experience light.

The ghost special effects are real rib-ticklers. Cosby wades through carpeting, waves like a flag in the wind and perches atop lamps and a mantel. He passes through a bus, and appears and disappears with the flick of a switch.

Poitier does a fine job as director. His characters are warm, and his story moves at a satisfying pace.

With "Ghost Dad," Cosby the comedian, author and television star reclaims the film stardom that dipped so low with his last -- and worst -- film, "Leonard, Part 6." Here he mugs, he trips, he whispers and bellows, he laughs and cries and pantomimes for all the world to see. He's Dr. Huxtable, without the wife or the money, but Huxtable all the same.

The supporting cast is very appealing and careful not to show up the star. Kimberly Russell of television's "Head of the Class" is the strong-willed teen-age daughter who reluctantly takes on the responsibilities of mother and father to her younger siblings. She's a typical teen, more interested in dating than laundry.

Salim Grant and Brooke Fontaine play the children, Danny and Amanda. They are sweet and low-key. Fontaine, the preschooler, stares sweetly into the camera. Grant has a good part as the 11-year-old magician-in-training.

Denise Nicholas as Joan, the love interest, Omar Gooding as Stuart, the upwardly mobile youngster, and Dana Ashbrook as Tony Ricker, the rude-mouthed teen-ager, are also very good. Raynor Scheine as the cabbie from hell is a wonderful invention.

However, no one overshadows the star. They come close, all of them, at one moment or another. As though they have their orders, they never cross the line.

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