Tuesday, August 2, 2016

'Ghostbusters' review

In a couple years, it'll be fun to look back at the controversy behind Ghostbusters and laugh. This film has been in theaters for a couple weeks now, and I still have a hard time believing that it generated so much discussion and anger. For now, I'm just gonna chalk it up as a symptom of this unusually insane year, but maybe it's a symptom of a much bigger problem. For those not in the know, Ghostbusters is a remake/reboot of the 1984 classic of the same name, and this time, it stars four very funny women- Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. Sounds like a pretty innocent idea, right? Reboots of classic 1980's properties are always pretty popular with studio execs, and after all, Ghostbusters was one of the biggest movies of the decade (if you adjust for inflation, it's one of the Top 35 box office hits of all time).


But to some fans, known primarily as the "Ghostbros," the idea of rebooting Ghostbusters with women was infuriating. And from there, the story of Ghostbusters 2016 became internet legend. The first teaser (an admittedly bad piece of studio marketing) was the most disliked trailer in YouTube history, and pretty much anyone who wrote about the film for the next few months was subjected to a never-ending stream of sexist, misogynistic hate. The cast fought back with some well-timed insults, and from there, things only got worse. Reviews came in positive, but things only got worse on the film's opening weekend. Alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos unleashed his robotic army of followers on star Leslie Jones, who temporarily left Twitter after being subjected to a horrific array of sexist, racist hate. The controversy was absolutely mind-boggling to me, and I feel like most normal people have had a hard time understanding why so many would be so upset by the idea of four women starring in a big-budget summer comedy.

After saying all of this in support of the film, it feels like a total 180 to say that I didn't like Ghostbusters. But the unfortunate truth is that I couldn't find much to really enjoy in this modern update beyond the promise of a much better adventure the second time around. Because that's the thing- I love these actors and I liked their characters in this movie. As the adventure wraps up and Feig teases the next one, I found myself wanting to see more of this cast and this team. So if that was the goal, mission accomplished. But if the goal was to make a funny, fresh, and engaging movie, that just didn't really happen. Ghostbusters never manages to hit the right notes. It feels like a prisoner to itself, restrained by fan service and a PG-13 rating. I kept waiting for things to break loose, but despite a few great moments, the film falls flat.


So what is the plot of this new Ghostbusters? Well, it does follow the story of the original pretty closely, but only with a brand-new cast of characters. Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a professor who's about to reach tenure at her prestigious university. But just as she's about to see a lot of hard work pay off, a moment from Erin's past comes back to haunt her. When she was still trying to find her way as a scientist, she wrote a book with her friend and colleague, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Erin thought she burned every copy, but somehow, Abby is selling them on Amazon again. Abby is now working at a rundown high school with the wacky scientist Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and she's not exactly happy to see Erin again. But things brighten up when the scientists are approaching by the owner of the Aldridge Mansion to investigate a paranormal haunting.

They've seen plenty of fake paranormal events before, but as they arrive at the mansion to explore and find the problem, they realize that this is no hoax. Soon enough, ghosts are popping up all over the city of New York- the subway, at rock concerts, etc. The three women realize that this outbreak of paranormal activity is a bigger deal than just one ghost. With the help of Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a subway worker, the women unite behind their love of the paranormal and their scientific brilliance to create a team- the Ghostbusters. Armed with matching jumpsuits and a wide array of technologically amazing weapons, the Ghostbusters unite with their dim-witted secretary (Chris Hemsworth) to take down a diabolical villain and save the city from the undead.


I'm in the weird position with this movie of absolutely adoring the cast and their characters, while simultaneously disliking the actual film. All four of these actresses have done terrific work in a variety of realms before, and when their talents are unleashed in this film, Ghostbusters fires on all cylinders. The franchise has always relied on the chemistry of the leads, and believe it or not, the ladies of Ghostbusters 2016 might have a better rapport with each other than the legendary cast of the original did. It's a lot of fun to watch Wiig and McCarthy play off the absolutely insane antics of Kate McKinnon or the genial likability of Leslie Jones. By the end, they feel like a family and that's truly essential to the future of this series. If we get a sequel (which isn't guaranteed), the key selling point will be how great this cast is.

While the script handles the amiable characters well, it's ultimately the critical failing of this film. Written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, the script feels choppy and jumbled, the result of too much studio interference and a clear lack of focus. The film moves in spurts, jumping forward at random times, and then stalling for prolonged stretches. The first act particularly is tedious, running through plenty of exposition and weak humor before kicking into high gear as the story progresses. Things get better during the middle stretch, but the inclusion of a human villain and the movement towards the finale feel haphazard, the result of trying to do too many things at once. The aforementioned villain is almost mind-bogglingly under-developed- he's a flat, mustache-twirling dweeb. And while I did enjoy the company of several of the other characters, they're not the most dynamic, with nobody really changing or undergoing an arc throughout the course of the film.


Tone is also a major roadblock. Now, the original Ghostbusters is no tonal masterpiece, but the 2016 update feels even more confused. Most of the time, it's an admittedly goofy ghost comedy with some ridiculous action beats and traditional Feig humor. But it gets oddly dark at times, and the moments of dramatic gravitas are strangely out-of-place. Take this one scene for example. The Ghostbusters are back at their headquarters after a big bust, and they're joking around, engaging in the usual lightweight banter. Suddenly, Erin begins talking about how Abby was her only friend as a kid because she was the only person who believed her. It's an interesting bit of backstory, something that adds to the depth of the film as a whole. But it comes right after a really stupid, crude joke, and I kept waiting for the "serious" moment to play as a punchline, which never happened. I was left scratching my head after that scene, and while it's the best example, there are plenty of others throughout the film.

Most importantly, I just didn't find Ghostbusters to be that funny, which is especially disappointing considering that I thought Spy was the funniest movie of 2015. Don't get me wrong, there are a few funny moments. Chris Hemsworth's numb-skull of a secretary generated a couple of chuckles from me, and I thought that Jones and McKinnon stole the show. But overall, it felt like a lot of the jokes missed the mark. Feig and his co-stars are mostly known for R-rated comedies, and in Ghostbusters (a PG-13 family comedy), that shows. Everybody feels like they're holding back. Now, f-bombs and sex jokes don't make a comedy successful, but in this film, the restrained humor feels symptomatic of a larger problem. Feig is a bold, refreshingly honest, and funny filmmaker, and anytime he would go off into a different direction with this film, it felt like something was always keeping him from doing anything radically unique or interesting.

My hope for future Ghostbusters films lies with Feig and this enormously talented cast. They're all funny, unique people, and I love how well they're able to work together. Unfortunately, that only goes so far when there isn't a whole lot to work with. Ghostbusters is a mediocre introduction to a new era that feels sluggish and restrained, held down by a weak script, blatant fan service (and some unnecessary cameos) and the demands of the four-quadrant marketplace. I wish I could say that this film was a slam dunk, as I had high hopes for a fun Ghostbusters film. And yet even with a great crew of funny people, I was left immensely disappointed, wanting more of a film that just wasn't there.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.7/10)



Images courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

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