By John Macy
Directed by Paul Feig
Written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold
Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Andy Garcia, Neil Casey
This movie has been marketed as a “reboot,” which to me means, take the basic concept and turn it on it’s head in some way. Some would say that the fact that the Busters are now women is enough to call it a reboot. This is an outright lie. While not shot-for-shot, it is a remake of the 1984 film, with some modern updates.
I understand that the intent of this movie is to portray four legitimately funny women as strong, competent, and worthy of leading their own summer franchise. This is a goal that I wholeheartedly support. The problem is that the movie tells the audience repeatedly that these characters are inferior BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN!
When the group starts hunting ghosts, they turn their adventures into YouTube videos which are then inundated with negative comments. One in particular, “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts” seems to be brought up to address the real-life internet hate surrounding this project. Instead, it comes across as so spiteful that it feels like the movie has no confidence in its stars.
In the original film, the Ghostbusters are thought of as heroes for their actions. That doesn’t really happen this time around. Instead, the team enters into a complicated relationship with the Mayor’s office. The Busters are helped by the city in secret, while at the same time being loudly and aggressively denounced in public. The easy way to do this would be to claim that ghosts aren’t real, or that the incidents are staged. Rather than doing that, these diatribes are delivered by the Mayor’s PR person claiming that the team are “sad, pathetic women desperately in need of attention.”
As if that isn’t bad enough, the long list of cameo appearances by actors from the 1984 film seems to exist to remind the audience how much the new actors suck. Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd are particularly bad in this regard.
Murray plays a paranormal debunker who shows for a scene to tell the group they are all frauds. I feel like if Murray had agreed to a larger role, he could have been this film’s equivalent to the smarmy EPA agent, Walter Peck. As it is, he walks into a room, tells Kristen Wiig that she’s awful and leaves.
Ackroyd plays a cabdriver in the film’s climax. When Wiig asks him for a ride, he responds by saying “This is no big deal. I don’t know what you’re whining about.” As a giant swarm of ghosts is tearing up New York. OK.
In the weeks leading up to this release, Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy have been giving interviews saying things like “Anyone who doesn’t like this is a misogynist who needs to get out of his mother’s basement.” After seeing the movie, I’m starting to think Paul Feig is a misogynist,
With the cast that this film has, this should haven been a comedic home run, even with all the baggage. Kristen Wiig is in the Bill Murray role. Instead of having Peter Venkman’s sly cynicism about the whole enterprise, Wiig’s character is a believer in the paranormal who regularly backs away from it because she’s worried about people laughing at her. Wiig’s comedic style is a poor fit for a big, loud, summer blockbuster. Her mining of awkward moments works when a film gives it time to breathe. She can’t just drop one liners between CGI shots.
Leslie Jones certainly does her best with the severely underwritten role of Patty, an MTA worker who joins the team after encountering a ghost in the subway. And the other three accept her because she has access to a car, and because Patty has nearly encyclopedic knowledge of New York City. More on that later.
If any actor deserves to come out of this well, it is Kate McKinnon. Her performance as engineer and weapons designer, Holtzmann, is the bright spot of this film. She is so wonderfully unhinged that every line and facial expression gets big laughs. I will never forget her dance scene to DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night,” where she gyrates maniacally while holding a blowtorch in each hand and setting random shit on fire.
The other standout performance belongs to Chris Hemsworth as the dim-witted receptionist, Kevin. He brings a endearing quality to this shallow idiot. He desperately wants to be part of the team, even though he has no idea what is going on. The role does have a certain amount of reverse sexism attached to it. The team knows he sucks at his job, but they keep him around because they “won’t be able to find anyone else as good looking as he is,” according to McCarthy, and because Wiig hopes to sleep with him. I get the joke, but it seems wrong somehow.
McKinnon and Hemsworth are good because they seem to be the only ones having fun. Everyone else seems beaten down by the weight of attempting to remake one of the seminal comedies of the 1980’s. At times, McKinnon’s performance is so bizarre and disconnected that it seems like she is in a different movie than everyone else is. It’s too bad that her movie is far better then what we are given.
The villain, a shifty weirdo named Rowan, is very weakly written and his plan makes no sense. He wants to weaken the barriers between the human world and the afterlife to raise an army of ghosts to crush humanity. Early on, it seems that Rowan is himself a ghost. Nope. Turns out he’s just a regular guy. No explanation is given as to why he seems to have been alive for at least 200 years Rowan commits suicide to become a ghost so that he can possess Kevin and lead the giant army of undead that eventually infests New York. How does it make sense for him to die and possess somebody else when he already has a body and the knowledge to lead the ghosts? It is fun to watch Hemsworth chew scenery, but there had to be a less clunky way to get to the same end point.
I think this movie can work for teenagers and people who don’t want to have to think about what they are watching. If that’s your mindset, you can enjoy some cool special effects and laugh at some mildly funny jokes. But if you pick up on the film’s subtext, which hits you over the head like Thor’s hammer, I don’t see how this movie can work for you.