Review: One big meh for ‘Ghostbusters’

Date Night | 15 Jul, 2016 |

We are living in an era of unnecessary reboots and sequels, and we are powerless to stop it.

Next in line for Hollywood’s endless quest to capitalize on our collective childhood is the reboot of Ghostbusters. Criticism of the reboot has ranged from caution to blatant misogyny: online groups without a modicum of intelligence, respect, or anything better to do have been attacking the film for months. Their reason? “Women aren’t funny.”

As a purveyor of cinema — especially the comedic kind — I can assure those naysayers that there are funny women all over the comedy landscape. But by some cruel twist of fate, the hateful masses ended up being right about one thing: Ghostbusters is not a hilarious movie. It’s barely even an amusing one. It misunderstands the original’s spirit, resulting in a stylistically confused identity crisis with little room for laughs.

This new iteration of Ghostbusters was written and directed by Paul Feig, the director/writer who created the cult classic Freaks and Geeks and worked on a number of fantastic TV shows. In 2011, he struck movie gold with Bridesmaids, which started his frequent collaboration with Melissa McCarthy and is in my opinion still his best movie. His style has always fit TV more than film; he’s more of a sketch comedy artist than a writer who can sustain a narrative.

Therein lies the root problem of the new Ghostbusters. The leading ladies are talented comics, the franchise is rife with possibilities, and the creative team is perfectly capable — but Paul Feig is not the right man to recapture the Ghostbusters spirit.

What makes Ivan Reitman’s 1984 original so entertaining and timeless? The movie’s comedy stems directly from its ridiculous premise. Boiled down to its simplest form, the

original Ghostbusters stays dedicated to a story about a group of four friends vanquishing ghosts in New York City. The laughs get bigger as the premise inevitably spirals into absurdity, because fighting ghosts is silly and the writers understood that with merry abandon.

2016’s Ghostbusters fails on that front. Feig seems somewhat embarrassed by the nature of his own film. The reboot’s comedic style tries to exist despite its own premise: the majority of the jokes have little to do with busting ghosts; the silliness has turned away from supernatural and towards Feig’s personal brand of humor. It comes off as Feig directing a separate comedy while a story about ghost-fighting women keeps getting in his way. This mesh of old and new is uncomfortably choppy.

It’s choppily edited as well, as it trips from scene to scene less like a streamlined narrative and more like an alternate cut of Anchorman that’s jumping around previously used jokes.

Not everyone misses the point: Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth are the only main players that grasp how outrageous the game is. Both of them turn the weirdness dial on their performances up to 11. McKinnon looks like she lives in her own crazy universe — perhaps that of the original Ghostbusters. Concerning the rest of the team: I could never escape the feeling that McCarthy, Wiig, and Jones were just alternate versions of themselves, like an SNL movie but less self-aware. At least the cameos from the original films are fun surprises.

The all-female team does deconstruct Hollywood’s waning obsession with men saving women. It accomplishes this by not making a big deal out of the gender swap, which is a smart move.

It’s still a serviceable time (especially visually, ghosts have never looked more convincingly wacky) and never truly bad, but Ghostbusters never rises above mediocrity. Well, the new Fall Out Boy version of the theme song was more than bad. It shattered what was left of my childhood.

★★½ (2.5 out of 5)

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