Ghostbusters (Review)

I’m not going to break down the plot of Ghostbusters in this review. We’ve all seen the original so many times, we can recite it.

If you’re hate-reading this review looking for justification for the past year of your life that you’ve spent actively whinging all over Facebook about how badly this “reboot” is going to suck, well, I’m not gonna let you down. If you don’t think this Ghostbusters is going to be your Ghostbusters, you’re right. And that’s the irony.

When it comes to judging just about any aspect of the 2016 model of Ghostbusters, there is no win to be found here. That’s not to say the movie is bad – it’s actually very funny – it’s just that, to put it mildly, fans kind of suck. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

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I get it. You love the 1984 model. It’s a classic. It’s endlessly inventive and quotable. Everyone, starting with Dan Aykroyd, wanted Ghostbusters III with the original team. But Bill Murray held out forever and Harold Ramis passed away. So who ya gonna call now?

I can only speak for myself but if I love a particular song, I’m probably going to enjoy some aspect of the cover versions. I love a good remix too – and that’s what this is.

Ghostbusters 2016 is a remix of Ghostbusters’ Greatest Hits.

Paul Feig is about as funny a director you’ll find working within the Hollywood system. When you compare the “TV comedy-to-breakout hit-to Ghostbusters” ratio, I don’t think anyone can argue that Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig aren’t in the exact same place that Murray and Aykroyd were at this stage in their careers. In fact, I’d even argue that both are better actors than their male counterparts were at this stage.

Will anything in this version be memorable in a year, much less 30? No way. But it’s the same deal with Star Trek. People love to complain that it’s not the way it was 30 years ago. Well, here’s the deal: would you prefer that thing you love to be timeless … or a relic of the past?

 

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Nobody associated with this project wants to use the “R” word, so I will. This is a top-to-bottom remake – and most remakes suck, primarily because they change one or two core values about the original.

This is just the opposite. Every single beat is where it should be, which makes it familiar and a little frustrating at the same time. Remember the backlash about how The Force Awakens was exactly like A New Hope? Get ready for the side-by-side 1984/2016 comparison videos as soon as a clean copy hits the net.

The 2016 Ghostbusters model is competently-made with a steady stream of laughs (some ribald), and solid characterizations. But here is where the ugly intersection of fan adoration and art has collided into a slimy green ectoplasm of goo.

 

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I feel bad for the creative team because there was no way to win. Once all the silliness about the female cast kicked in, the mandate must have become to make the most Ghostbusters-like Ghostbusters movie in Ghostbusters history.

Rumor has it that this film has been tested, re-tested, chopped and diced so many times that Feig himself is already hyping the director’s cut. I’ll bet good money that anything resembling an original thought was fodder for the cutting room floor, and even a casual viewing will confirm that.

You can trace that back to all that internet hate.

 

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All is fine until about the halfway point. Yes, scenes play out with the same progression as the original: the jokes land, the action is well framed, the FX solid. By the time we reach the “ghosts are loose on New York” finale, there are glorious moments of odd surrealism that score big laughs. But those quickly give way to a finale plagued by poor editing, wonky logic and obvious last-minute changes. In particular, a late-game plunge into an FX abyss seems like it was thrown together a month before it opened.

Watch any of the trailers. Half the gags aren’t even in the film or unfold during the closing credits. There is a missing line in the trailer from Chris Hemsworth’s hunky-yet-dim receptionist that apes a line from Jaws (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”) that looked like it set up a funny line that remains about New York’s mayor (Andy Garcia) offended he’s compared to the “Jaws mayor.” I wonder how many other set-ups and pay-offs were similarly compromised.

 

 

It’s a shame because Wiig and McCarthy are solid. Ditto Leslie Jones, who makes the most of her streetwise factoid-spewing role of Patty. They all seem like they are starring in a different film from Kate McKinnon, who plays wacky scientist Jillian Holtzmann. Poor McKinnon’s performance is reduced to a series of mugging shots that all seem like the final take of any line reading but used because it would make the movie “funnier.” She’s really distracting, but I suspect that was not by design.

Ghostbusters-3-new-Character-Banner-3I suppose the more fan-friendly approach would be to do it the way Star Trek (2009) introduced a new cast, but grounded it with Leonard Nimoy passing the baton. If Murray, Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts could all be persuaded to play unrelated fan-service cameos, you’re telling me they couldn’t figure out a way to do the same? Throw in a tribute to Harold Ramis (who died in 2014) and you’ve got a bridge to a new franchise.

But then, why hire Paul Feig?

Feig is a director that tends to take what you expect from a given movie convention and subvert it in a way that it emerges an entirely new idea. Bridesmaids. The Heat. Spy. All examples of Feig’s ability to comment on a genre while breaking it down in hilarious ways. He’s the perfect director for a 21st century Ghostbusters, but after all the keyboard cowboys cried out that their childhood has been defiled, I’m certain Sony had different ideas.

With any luck, the movie makes a killing and Sony takes Feig off the leash to make the sequel his way. But “fans” will still find a reason to complain.

Seriously, has everyone collectively forgotten what a skidmark Ghostbusters II was?

 

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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