“Boo Dude”: ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016) Review

Posted in The Screening Room by - July 16, 2016

In what is becoming a very politically turbulent year, it’s perhaps not at all unexpected for some of that tumult to leak into blockbuster season. Months before release, Columbia’s remake/reboot of the 1984 classic Ghostbusters was a hotbed of hullabaloo when four women were cast – with much self-congratulatory fanfare, mind you — as the leads replacing the original’s classic all-male lineup. What followed was much wailing and gnashing of teeth: the debut trailer earned the inauspicious distinction of being the most disliked trailer on YouTube; promotional toys were reported being sold as clearance even before the movie’s opening. On the other side, social justice proponents took the unwelcome reception as proof of society’s misogyny and cried sexism at Ghostbusters (2016) detractors.

So, with the roiling and seething in the background, it’s ironic the actual film isn’t much of anything. More a light diversion than social commentary, it’s neither the worst nor the best feature to grace the silver screen this summer. 

The film follows tenure-seeking Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), who wants to be a respectable scientist but discovers an old book of hers postulating the existence of the supernatural is being sold online. She visits her co-author and estranged friend, Abby Yates, (Melissa McCarthy) to remove it but quickly finds herself caught up in Yates and her eccentric colleague’s, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), ghostly investigations. With the help of subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and the hunky but incompetent secretary for their fledgling paranormal pest control business (Chris Hemsworth), the outfit learns of a sinister threat to bring an undead spectral apocalypse on the world that only they can prevent.

Sound familiar? The latest Ghostbusters borrows much from the first film, hitting many of the same notes regarding the plot, jokes, and cameos. Much of it will be overly similar – the government officials harassing our heroes and a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man doppelganger going Godzilla on New York. Like many of today’s blockbusters, there is a significant amount of unsubtle winking at the enthusiasts of the source material. 

This massive recycling of gags and ideas from the original often doesn’t result in hilarity or nostalgia. There’s too much techno-babble about “Faraday cage(s)” and “protonic reversal.” The big boss battle is one big CGI ectoplasma-gasm and lacks the tension of Venkman and the gang staring down and taking on Gozer the Gozerian. Speaking of Gozer, the original is imminently quotable: “Zuul the Gatekeeper of Gozer,” “Don’t cross the streams,” “He slimed me,” “We came. We saw. We kicked its ass.” Unless you like McCarthy ad-libbing about wontons, Ghostbusters (2016)’s dialogue doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

However, this isn’t to argue director Paul Feig’s comedy isn’t without redeeming merits. As McCarthy and Wiig are unremarkable, and Jones isn’t given enough to do, it’s McKinnon’s Holztmann that is the most memorable of the new team. She’s a mad scientist who engineers and tinkers with the haphazard gear and rudimentary weapons. It’s her off-beat craziness and maniacal glee at wrangling ghosts that make her a highlight. Though McKinnon is the true standout, Hemsworth is also great and is the center of attention in every scene he’s on-screen. As Kevin, he plays the dumb meathead with surprising comedic chops. Most of the movie’s laughs come from his take as a lovable doofus.

This Ghostbusters, though, is far from awful. It’s a disappointment for all parties invested in its fate. Lovers of the classic will find a mediocre rehash; it’s also not the artistic catastrophe the haters want it to be. For the feminists pushing the overthrow of the patriarchy in Hollywood, the film’s plot is so derived from the original; the movie can’t stand on its own without being indebted and paying homage to the male likes of Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson. 

Regardless of the social controversy, Feig’s comedy turns out to be a mere way station in just another summer blockbuster marathon. In a week, moviegoers will be again on the Enterprise with Kirk, Spock and the rest of her intrepid crew; in two, people will be like, “Ooh, Matt Damon and another Bourne movie!”; in three, nobody will care.

Final Say: Skip It

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