Endless is not a particularly good movie, but it does offer more evidence to back up my belief that Alexandra Shipp has what it takes to be a major star. The actress, who impressed in Tragedy Girls, Straight Outta Compton, and Love, Simon, headlines this riff on Ghost for modern teens that hits most of the notes you expect it to. Nevertheless, Shipp rises above the inherent cheesiness of the plot, infusing it with genuine emotion. She can't save the film, although she does keep it watchable.

Her character, Riley, is a high school student who's madly in love with boyfriend Chris (IT's Nicholas Hamilton), despite the fact that her parents aren't wild about him. (He rides a motorcycle – gasp!) One evening, they're at a party together. Riley has just gained acceptance to college and Chris isn't too happy about her moving away. He gets drunk, so she drives him home. The road is foggy, causing Riley to be unable to see the car in front of her stop short. They collide, leaving Chris dead.

Of course, Riley is heartbroken. Chris, meanwhile, is confused. Rather than going to Heaven, his soul stays put. A fellow wanderer, Jordan (DeRon Horton), shows him the ropes of dead-but-not-gone life. Chris soon tries to make contact with Riley, and he succeeds. They begin regular visits. Initially, that's helpful to both of them. Over time, though, it becomes clear to Chris that his true love isn't really moving on with her life because of him.

Endless doesn't do much that Ghost or other paranormal romances didn't do first. It certainly could have. For a while, the story includes an intriguing implication that Riley was responsible for the accident. The screenplay by Andre Case and Oneil Sharma frustratingly sidesteps that in the end. Rather than truly dealing with the guilt that would come from such a scenario, we get scenes like the one where a police officer comes to the house to ask questions, she cries after the first inquiry, and her father says, “I think you'd better leave now.” And the cop does. I'm guessing he didn't graduate near the top of his class at the academy. Refusing to fully delve into the idea undermines a subplot in which Chris's mom (Famke Janssen) blames Riley for the death of her son.

Scenes with Chris and Jordan are silly. Nothing about their friendship feels convincing. Those between Chris and Riley play a little better, thanks to Shipp. Even if the plotting is corny, the actress nicely conveys the sense of loss her character feels. When this grieving girl starts reaching out to her late boyfriend, we feel how ill-equipped she is to cope with pain so intense. A sense of desperation is there in Shipp's performance, showing us how Riley's life feels as though it's coming to an abrupt halt right at the moment when it should be taking off.

That note is the one Endless hits best. Grief is a horrible emotion, particularly for young people, who don't expect their peers to die. When the film sticks with that theme, it works, thanks to the commitment and skill of its lead actress. Too much time, however, is spent on the Chris/Jordan stuff and the unsatisfying subplot about what caused the accident. Regardless, director Scott Speer (Midnight Sun, Step Up Revolution) gets credit for giving the movie a beautiful look, most notably in the dust particle-filled shots of the leads meeting in a space somewhere between life and death.

If only he and his writers had stuck with their core strength – Alexandra Shipp – Endless might have been more than just Ghost-lite.

out of four

Endless is unrated, but contains mild language and mature themes. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.