Let me assure you the new Ghostbusters movie is neither as awesome nor as awful as you may have heard. While the special effects and cameos from the previous cast are great, much of the forced humor falls flat and the character development is pretty substandard.
That does not mean a gender-swapped Ghostbusters is not worth your time. In fact, I’d say it is – but for a filmgoer wanting this movie to be a feminist call to arms or a pop-culture boogeyman bent on destroying all memories of a beloved ’80s classic it fails to achieve either extreme.
What Ghostbusters is in 2016, at least for this critic, is a much-needed escape from the horror show that has become national and international news lately. It’s a well-intentioned update of the original premise of four oddball friends doing battle with the supernatural while exchanging family-friendly banter in hopes of saving New York City. The main difference this time is the four friends are all female and the effects (as well as product placement) are much more eye-popping and benefit from the 3-D format if you splurge for the Clark Kent glasses.
This film never has the chemistry of the original, but it does try to challenge some gender stereotypes without being too overt about such an agenda. Where it fails, however, is how the new team never steps out of shadow of its predecessor to blaze a trail of its own.
While the original 1984 film starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver has more than its share of nostalgic fans, the Hollywood powers decided now was the time to dust off the proton packs and fire up the money machine with a gender-swapped version.
This infuriated some of the more fragile GB devotees, but when I heard about it I had high hopes for what could be accomplished. The original was a silly sci-fi spectacle with a catchy theme song. Perhaps in the right hands this could be an even more clever take on these same tropes for a new generation.
After all, to paraphrase the 1984 Ghostbusters, “They came, they saw, and they kicked its ass.” Maybe this new group could do the same?
Sadly, the 2016 iteration of Ghostbusters, or Ghostbusters: Answer the Call as it refers to itself in the credits, is neither a great cinematic achievement nor is it a grotesque diminishing of its predecessor.
Kristin Wiig pretty much sleepwalks through her part as the corollary of Bill Murray in this version. For the most part, she starts out as a straight-laced protagonist whose past association with a fellow paranormal researcher (Melissa McCarthy) thwarts her academic progression to university tenure and forces her to throw in with another oddball (Kate McKinnon) and a blue-collar believer in the supernatural (Leslie Jones). Ghosts terrorize the town that never sleeps, and our rag-tag foursome use their scientific smarts, sass, and skills to combat a rising population of out-of-control spirits in much they same way as their male counterparts did in the original.
The movie is pretty much a mashup of Bridesmaids with comedy players from Saturday Night Live, Mad TV and the Upright Citizen’s Brigade (I guess Tina Fey and Amy Poehler thought better of this or perhaps wanted more cash) brought in to punch up scenes in bit roles between special-effects extravaganzas and cameos from the 1984 film.
If you want a respite from the deluge of terrorist attacks, political bickering, and racial tension dominating the headlines these days, watch Ghostbusters in 3-D and enjoy some delightfully demented-looking ghosts and goblins for a while. You won’t be disappointed.
However, you might be disappointed in the comedy limitations on display by these new lady GBs. There are occasional funny moments from McKinnon (who is underutilized) and Jones (who seems forced to portray the scared African-American stereotype way too much early on) as well as well-crafted scenarios involving Thor’s Chris Hemsworth playing a gender-flipped and none-too-bright receptionist, but his over involvement in the final reel undercuts most of that. McCarthy proved herself as a physical and sometimes cerebral comedian in Spy, but under director Paul Feig’s lens again here she and Wiig play things far too safe and only rarely show the delightfully weird comedic sides which audiences embraced so readily in Bridesmaids. (Though I never understood why.)
There are plenty of call backs and references to the original which will please those seeking nostalgia, but sadly the best one of all may not even get seen by those who exit the theater before all the credits are over, when a hint for what could be in store for the lady ghostbusters makes itself known in the very final seconds.
The new Ghostbusters could have been much better (it appears a dance number choreographed to Michael Jackson’s Thriller was planned for one section, but maybe the studio could not get the music rights?), and it could have been worse (well, maybe not worse than the new theme song by Fall Out Boy featuring Missy Elliot).
Oh well. We still have the over-the-top antics of the original and Ray Parker Jr’s song asking “Who you gonna call?” No amount of perceived slight to that memory (regardless of intent) can take that away, right?
Ghostbusters: Answer the Call
Director: Paul Feig
Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth with cameos by the original cast
Runtime: 1 hour, 56 minutes if you stay through all the credits.
PG-13 for action-comedy violence
Celluloid Scoreboard: C+, for a solid sci-fi comedy whose superstars never reach their potential.