Review: “Ghostbusters”

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I’ve never been more invested in the success of a movie I would otherwise not care about at all than the new Ghostbusters. After months of baffling, misguided internet vitriol that to me seems more about fanboy entitlement gone awry than it does misogyny (not to say that didn’t play a role), I couldn’t wait for the movie to come out just so everyone would just shut up about it. Not only did I just want the thing out into the world, but as a fan of Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids and Spy, I wanted it to be good. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. These actresses are tested entities, the director has a track record of providing smart, crowd-pleasing entertainment, and as far as rebooting Ghostbusters go, there’s certainly more innate potential to explore and expand the brand than, say, Jurassic Park.

Given my desire to see the naysayers silenced, it’s sad to report that the new Ghostbusters is a very lackluster blockbuster film, containing some nuggets of the improvisational humor Feig is known for but failing to integrate it into an exciting, coherent adventure. Paul Feig has traditionally worked in strictly R-rated territory, organically combining raunch with pathos in order to simultaneously harness drama and comedy from the same jokes. Slapped with a PG-13 rating, with no F-bombs or graphic sex jokes to fall back on, it seems Feig can’t quite figure out how something can be both funny and clean (ask Jerry Seinfeld… or Lord & Miller).

His answer is to provide comedy of the loud and forced variety, the kind that feels more like a comedian trying to figure out what makes a crowd laugh rather than telling jokes they themselves find funny. Often the ladies simply riff on small details in their surroundings, a sign of desperation that nobody could think of jokes that were actually relevant to the actual ghost busting. There is also a lot of characters yelling plot details at the audience, as if exposition becomes funnier at higher decibels.

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Running on autopilot through this loud and simplistic romp, the new team lineup of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are given very little time to play off one another, drained of the rich relationship dynamics that are usually the centerpiece of any Feig film. Though each of the four actresses are given an even amount of the spotlight, there’s a major discrepancy between the more grounded, Bridesmaids-esque performances from Wiig and McCarthy and the abrasive, madcap antics of McKinnon, Jones and Chris Hemsworth as their hunky, cartoonishly stupid receptionist. This tonal inconsistency keeps the team from ever feeling as cohesive as the original Ghostbusters. Sorely missing is a Bill Murray type character who is self-aware of all the weirdness that’s going on. Wiig begins the film in that mode but very quickly becomes just as bumbling as the others in her own way.

While the comedy fails to live up to most standards, the action is also fairly bland, even if mercifully coherent. There’s a real lack of both stakes and scale to the film. We’re told these ghosts are dangerous, but very little evidence is ever shown to back that up. In fact, far more chaos and destruction is caused by the ghostbusters themselves than the entities they hunt. The human villain of the movie is painfully week in terms of both how simplistic his motivations are and how unintimidating he is. Then there’s the laughably nonsensical Times Square finale that takes place in Times Square. Like countless superhero blockbusters, it’s yet another ‘dark cloud in the sky’ action sequence where our heroes fight a ton of undifferentiated foes.

Separated from his raunchy humor and forced to provide constant spectacle rather than exploring his characters, Feig drops (or has been forced to drop) his best qualities and focus on the most superficial elements of Hollywood filmmaking. Though there’s a whole world of possibility left to explore with this undeniably inventive franchise, this new model of Ghostbusters is woefully short on laughs, character, action and fun. Many may enjoy the wacky abandon with which these actresses go to town (such as in the frivolous dance sequences which I personally found awkward), but the film is just too thin on the whole to register any sort of impact after the credits. I’m sure the true haters will feel differently.

Score: 2 out of 5

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