Friday, July 29, 2016

Film Review: Ghostbuster (2016)

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

It is incredibly difficult to review this movie in a vacuum.  Not only is this movie a reboot of a beloved franchise but the publicity campaign for this movie got oddly political and polemic.  But I shall try my best to judge this movie on its own merits and deficits.  But comparisons between this movie and the original Ghostbusters are inevitable and necessary.

This Ghostbusters begins with a tour of an historical landmark.  Right from the beginning, the jokes begin to fall flat as the tour guide makes remarks about "enslaving" elephants.  When a ghost appears, the curator (Ed Begley Jr.) goes to see ghost expert Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig).  Erin is embarrassed by her ghost-investigating past and is afraid that these paranormal dabblings will risk her attempt to get tenure.  This leads to a confrontation with her old paranormal science partner Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who is working with the quirky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon).  When our heroes have an encounter with a ghost, they end up going in to business for themselves.  Joining them is subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and ditzy hunk/receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth).  Together they get in to the Ghostbusting game which leads them into confrontation with villain Rowan North (Neil Casey) and with the political powers of the city.

One of the things that struck me while watching this is was how much this movie reminded me of the original Iron Man.  Both movies spend a great deal of time on the testing and development of novel technologies in flashy montages.  What this said to me is that writer/director Paul Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold were not making a horror/comedy like the original.  Instead they were making a superhero/comedy movie.  This resulted in a common problem with the first installment of superhero films: they do not have completely self-contained story arcs but feel very much like only the first act of a larger stories.  It was a bold choice that I think actually would make a solid distinction between itself and the original if the execution was better.

And now we have to make the necessary comparisons to the original.

It has to be noted that the nature of the humor is much different.  This is the most suggestive element of the review because humor is so subjective from generation to generation and person to person.  The original used classic comedy structures of set-up/punchline, hitting the joke on the third line, double takes, etc.  The remake employs modern awkward humor, the type made popular in shows like The Office and Arrested Development.  Instead of using punchy, tight jokes in the dialogue which hit the punchline and then hop off to the next joke, Feig preferred to drag out the jokes and keep circling back to the central humorous anecdote, hoping that the awkwardness would increase the absurd humor.  This works incredibly well in the above mentioned TV shows.  It does not work at all well in Ghostbusters.

The reboot was wise in not making their female characters simple analogs to their male counterparts from the original.  But the problem here is the same problem that plagued the recent Kevin Hart/Dwayne Johnson comedy Central Intelligence: characters are replaced by caricatures.  The characters lack any sense of three-dimensionally.  This is ironic because this movie delves more into to the history of their relationships more than the original.  But the performances are broad but shallow.  None of the characters feel like real people.  If you go back and look at the original, even the cerebral Egon feels like a fully fleshed out man with depth, history, and passion.

That isn't to say that the actresses lack talent.  Wiig and McCarthy can be very funny as we saw in Bridesmaids.  McKinnon seems to think that being odd is a substitute for being funny.  That might be overly harsh because I get the feeling that she did a lot of improv with her character but Feig's humor instincts made some poor choices.  The only one who made me really laugh was Jones.  He performance was as broad as the others, but she give it such a passion and energy the leaps off of the screen.  She gets at least 4 really big laughs (the biggest of the movie) when the Ghostbusters go on their first case.

The movie also makes a horrible misstep with their main villain.  He is a creep with no real sense of menace.  Feig has worked with Casey before and uses him to play the part of the perverse oddball.  He does this well, but this leads to no actual humor.  Andy Garcia as the mayor is incredibly funny in his short time on screen.  Hemsworth's idiocy is beyond reason, but he manages to be charming enough to get you not to hate him.

The cameos are hit and miss.  Often it is more distracting than anything.  MINOR SPOILER THIS PARAGRAPH.  But I cannot help find symbolism in the fact that these new Ghostbusters inadvertently kill off Peter Venkman.  There are so many reasons why this scene does not play well, but it kills a good deal of good will fans of the original would give.  END SPOILERS

The original even had some nice Catholic elements like the Cardinal with the mayor and Venkman standing up for a destroyed Church.  And there was also that wonderfully unnerving dialogue about the Book of Revelation.  But the new one never attempts to touch those depths.  I can't think of anything terribly offensive, but there is a lot that is unexplored.

The movie ends with a line akin to "It's not terrible."  This sums up my assessment of the film.  You have a talented cast who is hamstrung by a poor script and a director with increasingly poorer comedic instincts.  Humor is awkward and crude.

Instead of leaving feeling happy, you'll leave feeling slimed.

2 out of 5 stars

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