After months and months of public debate, scrutiny, and misogynistic backlash, Paul Feig’s all-female GHOSTBUSTERS will land in theaters this week and once it does, it will be a day of reckoning for diehard Bridesmaids fans who believe Melissa McCarthy can do no wrong and for those who believe this unnecessary remake was made to cash in on nostalgia. Well, both camps are right. Feig’s updated iteration of Ghostbusters goes out of its way to deliver blatant nostalgia-based fan service, but still manages to combine Feig’s trademark comedic spirit with paranormal fun and, surprisingly, a generous dose of clever self-awareness.
Kristen Wiig stars as Erin, a soft-spoken scientist and university professor whose tenure is questioned after it’s discovered that she wrote a “silly” book about the paranormal with her estranged BFF and fellow scientist Abby (Melissa McCarthy). Ashamed, she denies the book exists as she has moved on from the world of ghouls and ghosts. She confronts Abby, who put the book back on the market and ends up going on a ghost hunt with her and her eccentric colleague Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) at a haunted mansion. They have a slimy run-in with an apparition which they later learn is the beginning of a plot to unleash a bedlam of ghosts into the city (sound familiar)?
When Erin starts to enthusiastically believe again, her snooty scholastic colleagues find out about her ectoplasmic encounter via YouTube and feel that it’s a hoax and that she cannot be taken seriously. So they fire her. She partners with Abby and Holtzmann to continue their ghost activities.
After meeting New York-savvy MTA worker Patty (Leslie Jones) during a subway investigation, they recruit her and add hunky, yet adorably vacant Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) as their receptionist and they all become the titular Ghostbusters…but it’s not until halfway through the movie that they call themselves that.
Seeing as how all of the aforementioned plot points appeared in one way or another in the trailers, none of this should come as a surprise. Then again, this is a remake, and if you’ve seen the original, the parallels are expected. Despite the obnoxious oversharing of the trailers (which is grounds for a separate article), Ghostbusters is a straight-forward and applaudable effort to set itself aside from its predecessor. But like Feig’s The Heat, it’s entertaining, just not very impressive.
There are a handful of problems that prevent this from becoming the smash hit that it wants it to be. The villain, a once-bullied man named Rowan (Neil Casey) who is awakening all the ghosts as an act of vengeance against the cruel world, is flat and hardly compelling enough to generate a conflict in which the audience can invest. The movie has corny moments, especially with a ghost-busting concert scene that was necessary, but overdone and hokey. In a more focused scope, the story glosses over plot details and leaves nothing for the audience to work for or to anticipate, specifically when it takes them less than a minute to figure out Rowan’s master plan. Things get spoonfed to the audience, laid out with color-by-number charm. Sure, these gals are smart, but the conflict and resolution were convenient and worked out too well at time; more of a challenge couldn’t have hurt. But in the end, some movie-goers just want to see these badass females fighting cartoonish, knock-off Tim Burton ghosts — and there is plenty of that.
McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, and Jones keep the movie’s head above water with their chemistry, energy and charisma, yet the remake feels very contained and hyper-cautious as if Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Reitman were hovering during the entire production like helicopter parents (wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if they were). McCarthy and Wiig’s characters require them to hold back on the outlandish humor that we are used to seeing from them. They offer up an adequate amount of comedy and sentiment to chew on, but at times, their tamed performances makes you wish they would go over the top. SNL cast members McKinnon and Jones hold their own and take advantage of a bigger stage to showcase their chops. But it’s Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, that wins MVP as the dumb-as-a-box-of-hair but well-meaning adonis, Kevin. All have laid the foundation for a bigger and better sequel where they can unleash and let loose a little more — and there will be part two based on the scene after the credits.
The Ghostbusters remake can’t be separated from the original because, well, like every other reboot and remake Hollywood has put through the ringer, that’s just impossible. That said, Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold had to perform a difficult balancing act of paying homage to the source material, trying to be original, and showcasing the cast of talented comedic actresses. The story is similar enough to the original without being a Xerox copy and there are enough cameos slipped into the movie to satisfy those prone to nostalgia.
But the horror-comedy-action flick goes beyond being a simple remake of a beloved cinematic classic with its clever reflection of the state of Hollywood and a meta approach to shutting up skeptics. Taking a closer look, Erin, Abby, Holtzmann, and Patty’s main challenge is to be taken seriously — a problem that this remake had from the get-go and an issue that is a hot-button topic for actresses as of late. Passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors, Ghostbusters not only turns the idea of a remake on its head, but challenges the Hollywood status quo by making one of the few ensemble female movies that is not a romantic comedy. Because of that, the movie swiftly struts confidently despite its setbacks – especially that unfortunate Fallout Boy cover of Ray Parker Jr.’s iconic theme song.
Running time: 116 minutes
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer