My review of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters remake/reboot …
If Ghostbusters had been remade with the cast of The Hangover, there wouldn’t have been any pre-release fuss – except from purists who bleat that every redo of the sacred texts of their youth, be it Star Trek or Weekend at Bernie’s, is sacrilege. It’s a surprise the Ghostbusters franchise has been inactive for so long – despite the underwhelming Ghostbusters II, it’s always been a solid premise, has generated cool spin-offs (the animated TV show was excellent) and its format seems designed to be retooled with new characters and players every so often. Sure, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson were cool – but not irreplaceable the way John Belushi was in The Blues Brothers. Doing it again with women in the leads is a genuinely fresh idea – rather like the way Roger Corman would sometimes do a disguised remake by changing male leads into women (turning The Strange One into Sorority Girl, The Defiant Ones into Black Mama, White Mama). In the event, it makes surprisingly little difference that the Ghostbusters are now women – though there obligatory jabs at male internet whiners and a sustained role reversal gag whereby Chris Hemsworth plays the male equivalent of the dim-bulb eye candy dancing secretary from The Producers.
Generally amiable, the new Ghostbusters feels a lot like an inflated remake of Scooby-Doo Monsters Unleashed! All over New York, scary spooks appear … by coincidence, uptight physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is drawn back into the orbit of her estranged childhood best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and rediscovers her lost passion for spook-hunting. The team is completed by out-there boffin Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon),who devises the ghostblasting tech, and subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), whose comic persona boils down to insisting loudly. This is defined as a remake because in its universe, it’s the first iteration of Ghostbusters – this gang aren’t reviving a business from the ‘80s but founding an entirely new one, which entails a lot of cameos from the surviving old cast (even a nod to the late Harold Ramis) and pauses for jokes about the firehouse, the no-ghost logo, the Stay-Puft man and other trace elements of the Ivan Reitman movie. In a way, the film would be better off without the constant harkbacks since they inhibit the new team and distract from a plot which isn’t quite strong enough. A whiny bellboy (Neil Casey) in an art deco hotel has invented gadgets which summon ghosts and plans to unloose a whole lot of them on the city – that’s pretty much it. The ghostbusters set out to stop him, but face hassle from city hall (Andy Garcia shows unexpected comic chops as the Mayor) and get slime poured on them.
The emotional spine of the first film was Venkman (Bill Murray) falling for the haunted client (Sigourney Weaver) – giving him as personal reason to fight supernatural evil ‘on a Biblical scale’. For a while, it seems as if the heart of the reboot will be Erin and Abby getting back together after breaking up – with their underlying sisterhood trumping their different personalities and quirks. The crux of the film, oddly reminiscent of Pacific Rim, involves a heroic bungee-jump into ectoplasmic limbo as Erin demonstrates how far she is willing to go for her friend. In The Heat, Paul Feig pulled off a mismatched buddy cop movie with female leads – but Melissa McCarthy clicks less well here with Kristen Wiig than she did with Sandra Bullock in the earlier film. Both leads are good, if not at their best – so it’s a helpful that Kate McKinnon gets a breakout showcase for what looks a lot like comic genius. A rare female funny bones comedian, she is off-kilter enough to be surprising throughout but also manages consistent characterisation as a genius with a unique sense of humour she knows most people around her don’t get. She also has the best action beat in the film, using whip-like electric arcs to scythe through a gang of ghosts in Robert Rodriguez-like slo-mo.
For something that would seem to be straightforward, this shows signs of a lot of mid-shoot or post-production rethinking. Early on, it’s signposted that serious paranormal investigators are in competition with tabloid TV hacks who give them a bad reputation – all set-up for a sub-plot that doesn’t happen. A key cameo player is defenestrated by a heavy metal demon, but it’s not specified whether they lived or died – though it would affect the plot either way. The end credits feature conversations the editor couldn’t fit in anywhere else and footage from a major sequence relegated from the film proper (there’s also a Marvel-like tag so stay seated). Most of the ghosts look impressive, but then don’t do much more than loom (to be fair, this was true of Reitman’s movies too) – and again the finale features something kaiju-sized on the rampage. It may be that Feig was as uninterested in the scary stuff here as he was in the cop plot of The Heat – whereas Aykroyd and Ramis were enthusiastic about riffing on classic weird fiction. It’s perfectly acceptable, if undemanding and no one would file it with the remakes of Robocop, Red Dawn and Point Break. But it’s still a mid-list comedy with its share of fart and goop jokes – which, to be honest, is all a Ghostbusters movie is obliged to be.
Incidentally, another puzzle (besides why anyone thought that humour-sucking black hole running joke about Chinese food shouldn’t be a deleted scene) – why does the climax seem to take place in 1974? Are all those movie marquees showing Taxi Driver, Fist of Fury and Willard supposed to be ghost buildings?