MOVIE REVIEW: Ghostbusters
Last summer when reviewing “Vacation” (I know, not the best start), I made this declaration about remakes, reboots, and sequels:
“The success of a remake, reboot, or sequel is contingent upon matching the tone of the original work to the best of its ability. If a film gets that tone right, it can be a drastic revision full of changes and updates and still feel respectfully aware and in tune with the previous well-remembered greatness the new film is trying to emulate.”
I stand by that rationale and now bring that gauge to “Ghostbusters” and the wave of misguided hatred that follows it. I say misguided because the overprotective nostalgia and/or sexist gender complaints are false sources of this film’s problems. In my opinion, the late Harold Ramis’s daughter, Violet Ramis Stiel, crushed those whiners down better than anyone else, ending the sad panties-in-a-bunch argument.
Conceived and constructed solely as a reboot/remake, Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” dares to blaze a new trail with a torch passed to them through multiple blessings. It brings the modern changes and updates that come with making this kind of movie in 2016 and not 1984, which equates to a high level of flashy CGI and blockbuster-level action compared to the saucy and subtle original. The misstep in that aforementioned recipe for remake success comes in the wavering tone of this new launching pad. Too much comes across as banal where it should soar with flair.
Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a physics professor on the edge of landing tenure at the dignified Columbia University when an old book she wrote on a lark over a decade ago about paranormal activity and ghosts resurfaces and damages her credibility and candidacy. Her estranged writing partner and former best friend, Abi Yates (Melissa McCarthy), put the book up on Amazon to earn a little money to further the research Erin gave up on. Abi slums it developing theories and homemade tech in the basement lab of a community college with a new partner, the daffy Jillian Holtzmann (“Saturday Night Live” Emmy nominee Kate McKinnon).
Through a shared referral, Erin is cajoled to join Abi and Jillian on an investigation of the supposedly haunted Aldridge Mansion and indeed encounter an unfriendly apparition, confirming the existence of ghosts that Erin was trying to ignore for years. Empowered to do more and boosted by their footage published YouTube, the trio set up shop in the upstairs storage area of a Chinese restaurant and hire a dim-witted beefcake model named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) to be their secretary. Soon, after another ghost encounter in the MTA subway, the team enlists Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) for her toughness and NY savvy. Some equipment upgrades and a sweet hearse ride later and the “Ghost Girls” hit the town as the “Ghostbusters.”
The four women and one Aussie man comprise an amusing central cast that does shift gears from your initial expectations. McCarthy skips her usual over-the-top and overplayed physical comedy to embody the straight man, as does Wiig dispensing with her penchant for constant caricature. Not all of their new direction works, but it is noticed and appreciated. Further, Jones dials down most of her signature shouting loudness to play the opposite of a token new recruit. The stoic stud Hemsworth, who hinted his “himbo” comedy chops last summer in “Vacation,” adds unexpected hilarity every time the camera comes to him. The real scene-stealer and showstopper is the unleashed Kate McKinnion who is an absolute riot of cinematic ham and cheese devoid of any “off” switch. She stirs this drink more than anyone else.
While the heroes are a hoot, the roster of villainous antagonists is entirely bland, matching the flaws of a bad superhero movie. A bullied weakling (“Inside Amy Schumer” and “Saturday Night Live” writer Neil Casey), a cocky NYC mayor (Andy Garcia), his conniving top aide (Cecily Strong), and two virtually nameless Homeland Security agents (Matt Walsh and Michael K. Williams) are underwhelming afterthoughts to the mayhem and special effects. This “Ghostbusters” needed a threat that punched back and provoked both the teamwork and the comedy.
As an action comedy, “Ghostbusters” can deliver summer season enjoyment. This film was right to be a fresh rebranding and not a sequel. The lead talent is there and the many cheeky nods, cameos and references to the original are welcome treats and surprises (stay through the credits). In the end, it is Paul Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold’s material that fails the talent and the film. Unless the gag was delivered by Hemsworth or McKinnon, too much of the banter and invented scientific gobbledygook is unfunny and lackluster considering the combined comic geniuses involved. The possibilities of charm fail and the timing is off. Those miscues amount to a fluctuating tone that never rises to greatness.
LESSON #1: STOP TALKING AND SHOOT—I lost count of how many times either a villain or hero monologued instead of completing their move or intervening in the present hazard. Cut the speeches short and get the job done already.
LESSON #2: EMBRACE YOUR WEIRDNESS WITH PASSION—Much like the original movie, very few people, public or professional, takes the “Ghostbusters” seriously. They are seen as crackpot nerds and scientists and ostracized for their eccentricity. Above the criticism and skepticism, the women stick to what they strongly study and believe to prove their worth, correctness, and importance.