Directed by Paul Feig.
2016. Rated PG-13, 116 minutes.
Michael Kenneth Williams
Ed Begley Jr.
I like to put my money where my mouth is. Trust me, my mouth was all over this movie. Wait, that didn't sound right. Scratch that. No, don't scratch it, just pay attention while I explain. Weeks before the release of the new Ghostbusters I wrote a guest post on KG's Movie Rants spelling out why I thought it was important for the film to be a hit. You can read it here. A reader took offense to my stance. I can sum up his responses with a line from the movie: "Ain't no bitches hunting ghosts." After some back and forth with this person, I wrote a post here, on my own blog, essentially doubling down on my original thought. After all this, I had no choice but to carry my ass to the nearest box-office, with my youngest daughter in tow, and plop down a few dollars for a ticket, thus doing my part to help this particular blockbuster become financially successful. I'm sure the twenty bucks I dropped put it in the black. You may laugh, but that might not be too far from the truth. Ticket sales have been a struggle for this movie, at least domestically. As proof, the fact it made back its budget was a legitimate news story.
Not going to see Ghostbusters on its opening week presented something of a challenge for my own peculiarities. When it comes to films I know I'm going to see in the near future, I try to avoid news about them like the plague. I don't read any articles on them. Whatever news I get on these movies is from headlines I couldn't avoid. I try to only watch one trailer for them, if that. I avoid all reviews of them, even the one you wrote. No worries. Now that I've seen it, I'll double back through my blogroll and read as many of them as I can over the next few days. Finally, if people out there get too chatty, I'll stay away from social media. I managed to do a pretty good job considering the extended time frame I was working with. However, something did find a crack in my shields and squirmed through. I saw that the movie did well with critics, but not so much with audiences. Let's see if I can get to the bottom of why.
In case the title of the film weren't a big enough clue, this is a remake of the 1984 classic of the same name. The big hubbub is the genders of our main characters have all been switched for this incarnation. In other words, we have four female ghostbusters and a male secretary. None of this is germane to the plot. However, with all the controversy surrounding that fact, I kind of had to mention it. I'll move on, for the time being.
The actual story starts with Erin Gilbert (Wiig). She's a professor at Columbia University trying desperately to earn tenure at the school. Her biggest obstacle appears to be keeping secret the book she once co-authored with Abby Yates (McCarthy). It's a book that not only didn't sell well, it's premise is ghosts are real. This is apparently a wholly unacceptable position for a professor at a prestigious Ivy League university. Her antics in hiding the book from her employer has led to she and Abby having a falling out. Nevertheless, someone who actually read the book asks the two to investigate a local museum where he believes there to be a ghost. There is. They see it. Erin shouts about it front of a camera. The video shows up on YouTube and she loses her job. Not surprisingly, she decides to go back to working with Yates. Joining Erin and Abby is Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), a tech wizard, and away we go. Soon enough, the ladies hire the handsome, but dumb Kevin Beckman (Hemsworth) to be their secretary. Shortly after that, they are joined by Patty Tolan (Jones), a subway token booth clerk with invaluable knowledge of the city. Together, they try to figure out why there appears to be a spike in paranormal activity and try to prevent what could be a cataclysmic event.
Plot-wise, it isn't terribly dissimilar to the original, but that much is to be expected from a remake. It tells that story well and is aided greatly by a tight pace that keeps things bouncing along. The runtime says it's just shy of two hours, but I believe a fair sized chunk of that makes up the closing credits. The rest of it flew by with comedy that works often enough and action sequences that do the same. The latter provides us with some nice moments because the team has to learn as they go. Hardly anything they do is cleanly executed. There's a certain charm in watching heroes who don't always know what they're doing. Even by the film's end it's not as if they've figured it all out and run like a well-oiled machine. They work their way through their problems and the movie is better for it.
On the comedy front, I said it works often enough. The translation there being it's a bit of a hit-and-miss proposition. The lion's share of the hits belong to Chris Hemsworth. He stole just about every scene in which he appeared, perfectly pulling off the dumb blonde routine. He is most known as Marvel's Thor, but has carved out a nice little niche for himself as a supporting character in comedies poking fun at his own good looks. The key is how oblivious he manages to seem to what he's doing. It's similar to what Marilyn Monroe did decades ago - knowing exactly how physically attractive oneself is while seeming to have no idea. The sad part is that none of the four principal performers can match his work, at least within the confines of this particular film. None of them are bad, but all are overshadowed whenever Hemsworth appears. Leslie Jones fares best due to her own commanding personality. Kristen Wiig has some nice moments playing off Hemsworth as her character is infatuated with his. Unfortunately, Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon tend to fade into the background during these scenes.
The situation surrounding Hemsworth highlights a problem with the film as a whole. The characters with the most backstory, and presumably, the ones we're meant to care the most about are the least interesting. We know lots about Erin and Abby, played by Wiig and McCarthy respectively, but never really care about them because all of the information we're given about them only serves to get them working together. That mission is accomplished roughly twenty minutes into the movie and is almost completely irrelevant by the time we hit thirty minutes. Wiig is her usually passive-aggressive self. She does it well, but so much more could be done with her character. For instance, there is a scene where she throws herself at Kevin while everyone is dancing. He clearly wants no parts of her and seems more interested in trying to dance with Patty, who gives him the same treatment he gives Erin. Instead of building on that by exploring the comedic and dramatic depths of such an occurrence, it's wasted as a throwaway gag. It's sort of funny in the moment, but feels like wasted potential. McCarthy is almost shockingly restrained. With so many characters vying for (near) equal face-time, she feels boxed in with only a few brief flashes of brilliance. McKinnon's Jillian is completely a one-note character. We like her, but again, we don't care. Jones's Patty is similarly flat. Patty and Jillian really serve as plot devices. Patty secures a car and helps them navigate the city while Jillian keeps them armed. The result is a movie in which the eponymous team is rather iffy in their scenes together.
Much like our heroines, the ghosts don't make as much of an impression as we would've liked. The intriguing ones in the beginning disappear from the movie to concentrate on a storyline to which they're only tangentially involved. Our villain, Rowan North (Casey) is solid, if unspectacular. The end of the film goes into nostalgia overdrive as we get ghosts from the original film AND rehashes of those ghosts. To that end, cameos from practically everyone still breathing from the original are shoe-horned in. Some of them are funny. Almost all of them are pointless save for the "hey, look" factor they provide. For those of us into the original, these tactics might feel excessive. For others, they're just steps on the road to the kinetic climax of a film that's managed to entertain us quite well to that point. Again, the pacing is major plus. Sharp dialogue, between the psuedo-science mumbo-jumbo that is, helps punchlines go down easy.
Flaws and all, this is a very fun picture. Sure, a number of jokes fall flat, but just as many work which is more than can be said for many a so-called comedy. It may be much funnier than that. The lady in the seat in front of me cackled loudly at every joke in the movie. No denying this chick was tickled. Anyhoo, the film also gives us enough thrills to justify its mid-summer release date. It's biggest crime is that the pieces are in place for it to be much better, but it doesn't always try to be. Still, there is enough here to recommend. It just seems bad word-of-mouth was extremely powerful on this one. Whether because the trailers were less than impressive, at least the one I saw, or because it's "bitches hunting ghosts," lots of people who normally go see see the big blockbusters decided to skip out on this. That's pretty sad, given some of the dreck that has raked in at least twice as much at the box office. Is Ghostbusters the best movie of the season? Not by a long shot. However, it's far from the worse, Martha. Why did I say that name? WHY DID I SAY THAT NAME?