Who aren’t you gonna call? The new Ghostbusters.
Movie Review #1,069
Distributed by Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Releasing. Comedy, Fantasy, Sci-Fi. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. Released July 15, 2016. Directed by Paul Feig. Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig. Based on the 1984 film “Ghostbusters” directed by Ivan Reitman, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis.
“Ghostbusters” isn’t a thing of the ’80s, and it’s not just a movie. We didn’t exactly need a reboot to remind us of what a classic it is, because 32 years later, its influence on pop culture prevails. I’d bet that even if you haven’t seen the movie (and even if, god forbid, you didn’t know the movie existed), you’re probably familiar with the logo or the Ray Parker Jr. song. Its presence in America is somewhat similar to the presence of a family-owned diner in a small town: Seemingly everybody in town eats there, and those who don’t are still quite familiar with it. But nobody lives forever, and eventually, the owner decides it’s best if he retires and hands down the series to his grandson, who in this case is Paul Feig. For somebody who’s eating there for the first time, the food might taste fine. But by golly, if you’d ever known the restaurant while Grampa Ivan Reitman was running it, you’ll be very disappointed by what Mr. Feig has in store.
Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are the new waitresses at the diner. We’ve seen all four of them do great work on Saturday Night Live, and we’ve seen McCarthy and Wiig perform hilariously in previous films by Feig. But in “Ghostbusters”, three of the four are appallingly lacking. The odd one out is Kate McKinnon, whose quirky, eccentric character is the one upside of the cast. For those who follow SNL, this is almost as good as her interpretation of Hillary Clinton.
But as far as the cast is concerned, that’s where the compliments end. McCarthy and Wiig are never established as anything but slight imitations of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in the original films. Feig and Katie Dippold, in their screenplay, try and conceal that as best they can, and I’d rather they didn’t. I’d rather be watching characters that blatantly impersonated the original cast, than thinly veiled impressions that have no other substance. Meanwhile, the screenplay crafts Leslie Jones’s character as a stereotypical black woman whose catchphrase seems to be “Oh hell no!”. It’s fine when Jones is playing that sort of stock character on SNL, but in a feature-length motion picture, it’s rather annoying.
Even Chris Hemsworth’s role, while consistently amusing, is rather one-note. Hemsworth plays a dim-witted receptionist for the Ghostbusters, hired only because of his good looks. Given that he is the only employee for their small business, other than the Ghostbusters themselves, I have to question why he is in this film in the first place.
The remnants of the classic “Ghostbusters” film are even more disappointing. Bill Murray shows up for a few minutes as a famed supernatural debunker. Initially, we’re very glad to see him return, but then we realize how bored he looks. Dan Aykroyd’s cameo is slightly better. He plays a taxi driver who refuses to give Kristen Wiig a lift, and this exchange lasts fifteen seconds at best. Ozzy Osbourne enjoys an even shorter cameo in the film. His performance amounts to him shouting, “Sharon! I think I’m having another flashback!” Ozzy’s delivery of the line is a very welcome, unexpected, and self-deprecating moment in an otherwise dull film. But the sad irony of it is, the unrelated metal artist’s cameo is much more enjoyable than what we get from two of the original Ghostbusters.
As a comedy, “Ghostbusters” is rather disappointing, and as a sci-fi movie, it is, too. The “science” of how the ghosts have taken over New York City is something that is discussed in vague terms throughout the entire film. Every bit of rationale that leads the Ghostbusters to save NYC from its ghost epidemic consists of pseudo-science and pseudo-reasoning. I suppose we are expected to simply nod our heads and go along with whatever plans the characters are discussing, regardless of whether they logically make sense. Katie Dippold and Paul Feig both have written comedies before, but it’s rather obvious that neither screenwriter has any prior experience in the sci-fi genre.
Additionally, the visual effects are underwhelming for a sci-fi movie. These ghosts look like they came right out of a video game. Perhaps, by the last half-hour of the movie, that makes all the sense in the world: we feel like we’re watching a video game. The use of practical effects, in an age where CGI didn’t exist and 3-D was primitive, was just part of what made the original “Ghostbusters” so much fun. Unfortunately, the exact opposite can be said about the reboot.