Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters

I watched the original Ghostbusters a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. It's funny, had an original story, memorable characters and lines. The original is 30 years old, so I guess it's time for a remake. There was controversy that it's an all-female cast but I didn't care about that. Once Starbuck was recast as a woman in the Battlestar Galactica reboot it should be clear that you have to wait and see what happens. While I'm not a huge fan of Melissa McCarthy she's clearly a comedy star of the moment. And Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are all very funny on SNL (though I grew a bit tired of Wiig).

So how is the new Ghostbusters? Meh. And I think that's being a bit generous. While it has moments, I didn't find it that funny and it doesn't hold together as a story. It's not character driven, it's a collection of lines.

First off, there was talk of this being a soft remake or following on from the original film. This isn't that, it's a remake. This is not a world where Venkman, Ray,, Egon and Winston saved NYC from ghosts. That's fine. I'm going to compare it to the original because it's begging to be. It's called Ghostbusters, it uses three versions of the original theme, the premise is the same, and there are cameos by practically every member of the original cast and some of the same catch phrases are used.

There are two big flaws with this movie, characters and story. Let's start with characters.

The original has the dorky genius (Egon), the boyish genius (Ray) and the smart-alec lazy scammer (Venkman). Bill Murray drove the plot, getthing them thrown out of university, starting a business, trying to date Sigourney Weaver. He was also our entry point into the story since he didn't believe in ghosts at first either. You believe in the tech in this world because Egon is so smart he could probably make it all. And Ray is the go between, smart enough to have a conversation with Egon, and boyish enough to relate to Venkman and to have fun, which lets us have fun. Winston is just tacked on but the other supporting characters work. Dana is the everywoman who's then posessed, Rick Moranis is silly, Annie Potts is snarky and Walter Peck is the asshole villain though he also just wants to protect the city, just from our heroes.

In the remake the characters are more like SNL skit characters. Abby is the character McCarthy always plays, brash and trying to be smart but actually really dumb. It's worked for her in many films, but I never liked this character. My favorite parts of Spy were when she was actually competent. Erin (Wiig) is supposed to be smart, she's about to get tenure and thinks Abby silly but she's constantly doing dumb things and acting silly; which is just wrong for a character who is setup to redeem herself. Holtzmann (McKinnon) is the Egon character, she's more in the background and invents all the crazy tech. She's always doing weird things in the back of a scene, kind of reminding of Bang Bang in The Brothers Bloom though she has more of a role. I found her very funny in this but was always reminded of her SNL characters. The glasses and funny looks worked well, the cut away to randomly eating a can of Pringles ("salty parabolas") didn't. Patty is the most believable character and like Winston joins the group halfway through. If you've ever seen Leslie Jones just picture how she would react to anything in Ghostbusters and you have this character. She's loud and angry and very funny ("Baby, if I knew what is was, I wouldn't have called it a 'weird sparking thing'.").

The other main character is the secretary Kevin played by Chris Hemsworth. He's funny but is so dumb that's he's just a caricature; he covers his eyes (though his lensless glasses) when he hears loud noises. He's clearly meant to be a gender reversed hot dumb secretary, but in the original Annie Potts was perhaps the most competent person in the company. Is it funny that Wiig can't see his incompetance because of his hotness? Perhaps, though it's less funny than social commentary. It also seems completely against her character. McCarthy can see his incompetance but doesn't acknowledge his hotness. Is that funny? It wasn't to me and it's not a social commentary so it just seemed silly.

The real problem with the characters is that they aren't used to drive the story. No one really has an arc. The closest thing to one is Erin wanting to get tenure or recognition, but that's dropped completely. The original had the Ghostbusters become famous and that's before they saved the whole city. This one oddly doesn't do that, even when they save an entire rock concert in which no one runs away from a giant ghost even when they realize it's not part of the act. The city government wants to shut them down to prevent panic, but no one is panicing or even recognizing them. And the city says they know of the ghosts and will deal with them when they clearly don't and can't.

The original had a bad government guy that felt the Ghostbusters were unsafe (they were) and was driven mad by Venkman's taunts; it was character driven. The mayor wasn't a fool. He just didn't believe in ghosts at first (which is a plot point because all the normal characters don't) and then is swayed by logic which also happened to be funny: "If I'm wrong, nothing happens! We go to jail - peacefully, quietly. We'll enjoy it! But if I'm right, and we can stop this thing... Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters." Dan Ackroid's boyishness (remember him loving the fire pole) pays off at the end with him being the cause of the giant marshmallow man. In this one we just get a giant dough boy for no real reason.

There are certainly bits I laughed at, and I think that everyone will laugh at something, but at least in my theater, there was nothing that everyone laughed at, in fact it there were only a few things that more than a few people laughed at together. They just threw together at a lot of individual lines and hoped enough sticks to find something for everyone. I'm not impressed by that. The only running joke is about McCarthy getting take out soup and while it works it's not related to the plot or the story.

I'm happy to see that Half in the Bag agrees with me, though they liked it way less than I did. I thought lines and some of the minor characters were funny, but not enough to sustain a two hour movie.

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