Phoebe Cates may be the only real reason to see ''Drop Dead Fred.''
The presence of Cates in any film means we can bear just about anything, so long as she is around, and this is just about anything.
The new film plays like a redo of ''Beetlejuice'' with a touch of ''Ghost,'' but neither idea is put to good use.
The film is in desperate need of flow. It plays like a collection of bits, skits that have been thrown together with little eye to continuity.
Cates plays a young woman whose husband has left her for someone else, someone who looks very much like Bridget Fonda and probably is, with no billing.
The husband, a real fool, is played by Tim Matheson. Carrie Fisher, in a role that has her stompping the ground looking for laughs, is best friend to Elizabeth (Cates).
fTC Rik Mayall, a British comic, is Fred, the imaginary friend of Elizabeth, someone she has known since childhood. Most of the time, he leaves her alone. When she in unhappy, he reappears.
The film gives far too much time to Mayall, who, as the clown from Elizabeth's other world, does a lot of wretching, yelling and name calling. At times, he has cartoon aid. At one point, his eyes bug, become pinball fixtures then recess. This is when he finds himself on the floor, looking up a woman's skirt. He does this rather frequently. He's such a cutup.
One of Fred's targets is Elizabeth's mother, who is very badly drawn, but then there is nothing that is carefully drawn in the film. Mom, played by Marsha Mason, is domineering and, in her own way, destructive, but she is not all that bad, not as movie mothers go.
Only Elizabeth can see Fred, so when he pushes her around and manipulates her arms and hands, the others think the woman is daft. She isn't, but she isn't funny, either. Nothing, in fact, is very funny in this movie, one that wants to be ''Beetlejuice'' and isn't, one in which Mayall wants to do Michael Keaton and doesn't. Mayall is a comic, no doubt about it, but this film doesn't use him that well.
''Drop Dead Fred'' is playing at local houses. It has one imaginative, even amusing, scene in which a shrink's waiting room is busy with imaginary friends of the children waiting there.
G; Put ''Drop Dead Fred'' down as a well-intended misfire.
''Drop Dead Fred'' * A young woman whose husband has left her is visited by the imaginary Fred, someone she first met when she was a little girl.
CAST: Phoebe Cates, Rik Mayall, Marsha Mason
DIRECTOR: Ate De Jong
RATING: PG-13 (language)
( RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes