Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

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I’m happy to report that the reboot/remake of Ghostbusters, titled simply Ghostbusters, did not ruin my childhood (although I saw the first film when I was 23), and I laughed often. I knew I was in for a good time when the pre-credit opening, set in a creepy old mansion in New York, is noted for having luxuries like a “face bidet” and an “anti-Irish fence.”

But, overthinking person that I am, I was plagued by several questions. I know that this project resulted in the demise of a possible Ghostbusters III, both by the actual death of Harold Ramis and the foot-dragging of Bill Murray. So they decided to just start over, and in a bold move, director Paul Feig, who made the all-female comedy Bridesmaids, also cast this Ghostbusters with all-female leds.

The film also makes the choice not to acknowledge that there were Ghostbusters in the past, so this is a tabula rasa. The former cast-members (except for Rick Moranis) make cameo appearances as other characters (even Ramis is honored).

So why, since this is all new, is the film so similar to the first one? It’s set in New York City, it has the Ghostbusters wearing grey uniforms and carrying machines that capture ghosts, they drive around in a odd vehicle (this time it’s a hearse, not an ambulance) and the plot concerns higher-than-normal paranormal activity (there’s even a ghost of a someone who died on the electric chair). It’s as if Feig decided to be different, but not too different, and essentially remade the first film with an all-female cast.

I will give the cast credit–none of them are echoes of the original ghostbusters. There’s no obvious Venkman or Stantz stand-in. Instead we get something a little blander. Kristen Wiig is a physics professor looking for tenure but has a book about ghosts she co-authored with Melissa McCarthy, who is still in the ghost-hunting profession. Wiig loses tenure after beeing seen in a video where she yells, “Ghosts are real!” McCarthy’s sidekick is an engineer, Kate McKinnon, who is the only character of any major interest, and she’s impossible to describe. Each line reading is an adventure, and she’s so committed to her oddball character that she runs rings around the others.

As for Leslie Jones, I’m sorry that the only black ghostbuster, as with the first film, is the only non-scientist. She’s an MTA worker who is also an expert on New York City history (why not have made her a historian or a tour guide?) She has a lot of great lines, though, usually in the “sassy black woman” category, such as “If looking good is a crime, I’m guilty as charged!”

The plot is almost irrelevant. A nerdy guy who hates people wants to unleash all the ghosts and rule them all, but this seems like an afterthought. I also wasn’t a big fan of Chris Hemsworth’s dumb receptionist character, though he was game.

I liked Ghostbusters okay, and we’re set up for a sequel if you stay past the credits and remember who Zuul is. But I kind of wished they had gone in a completely different direction. Set it in L.A., London, Las Vegas. Drop all the scientific crap. Make it more like the old Abbott and Costello or Bob Hope haunted house movies. Anything, but this. But for what is, it’s okay and worth seeing.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

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