Ghostbusters (2016) / Comedy-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Michael Kenneth Williams, Matt Walsh
Small role: Ed Begley Jr., Charles Dance, Steve Higgins, Bill Murray, Ozzy Osbourne, Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Al Roker, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver
Director: Paul Feig
Screenplay: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Review published July 16, 2016
Kristen Wiig (Zoolander 2, The Martian) plays Erin Gilbert, an ambitious associate professor seeking tenure at New York's prestigious Columbia University. Erin ends up losing that when a book she published years ago on ghosts surfaces, putting the credibility of the institution in question should she remain in the faculty. Turns out that her writing partner, Abby Yates (McCarthy, The Boss), republished the book that had previously been out of print, and ends up cajoling Erin to just come help her and her current research partner, the kooky gearhead engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon, The Angry Birds Movie), in her studies in investigating paranormal activity.
They initially find success in trapping ghosts with Jillian's devices, and their continued pursuit leads them to start a business and take on a fourth team member in Patty Tolan (Jones, Top Five), a street-wise MTA subway employee who has seen a particularly nasty apparition in the subways of New York, and whose knowledge of the city will be of particular help, plus an daft-but-hunky administrative assistant in Kevin (Hemsworth, The Huntsman: Winter's War). But the ghostly activity seems to be on the rise, with signs pointing toward an oddball loner janitor named Rowan North (Casey, Fort Tilden), who seems to be Hell-bent on bringing the generally unseen demons and ghouls to the Earthly plane that hasn't been so kind to regarding his genius.
The tornado of negative publicity since this project's specifics had been announced exposed an ugly side of the internet, fueled by fanboy fanaticism and a distinct lack of flexibility of opinions or maturity to know how the rest of the world actually works beyond the incendiary blogosphere. The knives were out, looking to kill the film before it had even begun, much less been set for release. Now that it has been released, those knives have not only missed their intended target by a good measure, but actually end up smiting the wielders -- not fatally, but in a way in which the general public will be even less susceptible to believing the anti-fan property hysteria that surrounds remakes of hallowed childhood favorites in future releases. Also, the amount of malicious pre-release commentary put the new Ghostbusters in the realm of being an underdog, causing those who might have been critical if the film was overhyped into actually clapping and rooting it on to success in the face of so many vicious detractors.
Not that the 2016 version of Ghostbusters will change any of the haters' opinions, as they will find as many faults within the film to be able to justify clinging to their initial response much like one's significant other will find flaws in their partner shortly after they decide that they don't want to be in a relationship. No, this remake will not replace the original 1984 film in the hearts, minds, and Blu-Ray collections of those who've cherished it over the years, as it does fall short in all of the departments that anyone cares about: laughs, scares, cast chemistry, the score, the soundtrack, and ingenuity in its special effects work (while the effects in the 2016 are technically much better in detail, they don't blend well as most major releases with the live action, leaving them a distraction rather than an enhancement, leaving the characters looking like they're in the middle of a virtual reality experience rather than, well, reality). Not even the original cast and director could replicate the magic of the original film just a few years later when the disappointing Ghostbusters 2 had been released, so what chance could an entire remake of the series with different actors playing different characters have?
Interestingly, rather than kowtow to the heat of the fury of a thousand internet flamers, director Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat) decides to get the last laugh by making his main villain of his film "one of them", or, at least, how they are generally perceived: emotionally immature dwellers of their parents' basement who have decided to lash out at anything they even mildly disapprove of as a way to strike out when the things that define them, such as their comics, movies or video games, has been altered in order to be more inclusive of the rest of humanity that generally shuns them. The often meta film deals with the flames in a more playful fashion during one particular scene in which they've had a video posted of their ghost-busting activities on YouTube, only to find the reaction in the comments to be quite negative, including the gem, "Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts," which is the kind of comments the makes of Ghostbusters were getting throughout the entire production from the detractors who were railing against the casting of all-female heroes.
No, Ghostbusters, the 2016 version, isn't as good as the original film, but, to score a point in its favor, it isn't trying to best it so much as to pay a great deal of homage to it. It's a fan film through and through, definitely a lesser experience if there hadn't been a beloved comedy original to build upon, offering a plethora of Easter Eggs for those who remember the 32-year-old film, including some choice cameo appearances from the original cast (including some familiar ghost characters and familiar locales) to help to pass the torch of credibility. In fact, the movie plays out much like a loose-hanging remake of the plot of the original film, though with its more modern, improvisational comedic sensibilities, where the world inhabited is a wholly comic creation, rather than having comical characters in the so-called real world as in the 1984 original. The makers are definitely not looking to score originality points; they just want to earn a few solid yuks and for fans to walk out with a smile.
Where the film differs, of course, is in its characters and cast, and that's also where this version of the "Ghostbusters" excels. Wiig and McCarthy are always funny personalities to watch, even if they don't completely cut loose in their respective roles. Instead, the more "out-there" character work is given to Kate McKinnon in a role so daffy that she will likely be seen as stealing the movie for a sizeable percentage of the viewing audience, as well as for Leslie Jones, who isn't as hilarious in a more earthy character, but I do think she offers more to the comedy than Ernie Hudson had been afforded in his stint as the non-scientist member of the quartet, Winston, in the first two original movies. The use of Chris Hemsworth, who has come into his own as a great, self-deprecating comedic character actor in some of his more recent movies, is also one of the film's greatest highlights, playing a extremely dumb but also extremely loveable hunk that Wiig's Erin can't get close enough to. Stay through the end credits for a funny scene involving his character that likely had been intended as a set piece within the main body of the film, but which works much better out of the context. (On that note, also stay for an extra short scene after the end credits).
While Feig pulls through with the comedy, if there's something sorely lacking from this version other than Rick Moranis and the late Harold Ramis, it's excitement in seeing the ghosts and their resulting mayhem. These moments of interaction between Bill Murray and the special effects ghoulies made for some classic funny moments, whereas they result in some of the lamest jokes in the bunch in this release. Just as the last half-hour of the 1984 Ghostbusters crackles with energy and excitement when the boys battle to save New York from certain disaster, the noisy 2016 Ghostbusters finale provides the most extended period to head to the restroom, as we watch lots of cartoony ghosts wreaking havoc on the computer-generated city without raising much in terms of pulse rates for us in the audience just looking for the next gag line.
Taken for what it is, a movie built solely to be a lightheartedly goofy, energetic fun dessert flick to entertain young and old, Paul Feig's Ghostbusters succeeds at drawing out just enough chuckles to earn its keep, and dishes out just enough daffy charm and likeable characters to make most viewers willing to climb on board for future adventures, regardless of whether the stars' chromosomes are XX or XY. We ain't afraid of no Ghostbuster gals.
©2016 Vince Leo