With the fun but infinitely overrated Stranger Things currently occupying the genre cultural discourse it’s all feeling very 1980’s at the moment, an apt time you’d think for a deeply cherished franchise to finally return to the big screen. I don’t think I need to spend much time giving you the context of Ghostbusters, the long mooted remoulding of the much 1984 original, this time taken into the 21st century with an all female lead cast and direction from the loosely acclaimed Paul Spy, Bridesmaids Feig. So, please allow me to set the tone before we proceed. Firstly, I wanted to judge this film on its own merits or lack thereof, as its own discrete entity from a purely cinematic position, regardless of the gender of its main players or the track record of its production team. Secondly I have precisely zero problem with remaking / rebooting / resurrecting or re-inseminating this franchise, sure I was raised with it as one of those key blockbusters of my youth and enjoyed it a great deal, fuck man I still remember seeing this clip on what must have been Film 1983 and being exceptionally excited at the top-notch special effects and exotic New York location. It was certainly the first film to introduce me to the legendary Bill Murray, although amusingly his character in the original now comes across as a pretty loathsome, skeezy Lothario in 2016, not the sarcastic, anti-establishment, slightly superior we all know and love. Like the Indiana Jones films I recently covered I don’t think these texts are precious and require some fan worshipping guardians to protect the beloved memories of their childhood, and if I may be so bold to observe that if the one thing that is going to you all riled up and angrily screaming through your keyboard isn’t catastrophic climate change, or grevious political divisions, or Middle Eastern civil wars atrocities or the second imminent economic holocaust then may I humbly suggest you might just want to take a second and reassess your life and intellectual choices. It’s just a fucking movie, the original still remains to be cherished and re-watched, and of course it goes without saying that the whole orbit of outright pathetic misogny and racism that has surrounded this project has risked obscuring the film itself.
For the first half an hour of Ghostbusters I relaxed into the film as it was genuinely funny with a well-oiled sheen of gags and asides which had me and the audience braying like donkeys. This preamble to the main plot sees Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) reunited with her old friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), the former is seeking tenure at her University, the latter risking this promotion after she publishes a book they both wrote on the existence of the supernatural and paranormal back in their wilder, less professionally constrained carriers. After a period of disconnection they meet up alongside Gilbert’s new eccentric scientific partner Dr. Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), and through a contrived set of spooky materializations that are guided by a sinister force quickly inherit the mantle of the Big Apple’s premier paranormal predators. The fourth member of the team is Subway Guard Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who quits her career after witnessing one of the visitations in the underground network, an able addition to the team due to her encyclopedic knowledge of New York’s buried and secret histories. The set-up is reasonably efficient and engaging, so it’s a real shame that after a promising first act Ghostbusters becomes more discorporeal than the discombobulated spirits that inhabit it, as it collapses into a series of laughter free scenes which slothfully shamble to their final, inevitable Big Apple whizz- bang CGI extravaganza.
For me the real failure was just the slap-dash nature of the piece. The plot structure is non existent and believe me I wasn’t expecting a big Hollywood remake to have the intricate precision of a Billy Wilder or Fritz Lang picture, but numerous scenes feel truncated and stumbled into and out of, while the editing frequently crushes any potential for a joke, a pratfall or reaction beat. Nevertheless Kristen Wiig is as amusing and adorable as ever, I’ve been a big fan of hers ever since the understated sarcasm in Knocked Up and she was the one feature that really sold Bridesmaids to me. McCarthy seems to have bumbling, slightly absence shtick toned down which is welcome, she’s a very talented comedianne so again its a shame she didn’t get anything radioactive to play with. The newcomers which I understand are SNL alumni where competent enough, praise the heavens that Leslie Jones is less the sassy urban black mamma than the trailer suggested, and she actually gets a welcome position as a self declared New York history buff, a skill which could have been utilised far more successfully if any semblance of a engineered plot materialised out of the netherworld. Similarly McKinnon as the slightly deranged boffin character that Harold Ramis possessed in the original was also a welcome change to women as wives / whores / kick-ass martial artists which seems to be the general models these days, with an impish sense of humour she’s quite a marmite character that has generated love and loathing in equal measure. The inevitable cameos are all welcome but don’t add any support to the film in terms of credible characters or more crucially laughs, it’s a bit more as if Feig was viewing the rushes and realised that two or three scenes were flagging so they’d best throw in Dan Ackroyd as a grizzled New York cabbie to rile the audience from the stupor induced by of all things a Ozzy Osbourne appearance – hey Sony, 2008 called and it wants it’s cultural references back. Somehow, through all the placid pyrotechnics the quartet do have a sense of camaradarie and kinship which is one of the films few achievements, which I’m sure will be dragged through to the already announced sequel.
The film is also laughed with some fairly blatant product placement which wouldn’t go amiss in a Truman Show remake, and for a supposed horror comedy its evident that the former has been diluted to the point of abstraction, no doubt to hit all the four quadrants as powerfully as a reverse tachyon emitting lance. It’s not a terrible, insulting film – we can leave that particular task to Adam Sandler when it comes to contemporary American comedies – but it is mediocre, and you can sense the inprovisation that Feig stages on set cannot compensate for a film which doesn’t have the essential infrastructure of a polished and final script to provide the framework to operate within. Case in point, the entire interview scene for Chris Hemsworth to join the team as their incompetant secretary was almost all made up on the spot, some people have enjoyed this sequence immensely, I didn’t laugh once. I have infinitely better things rot do with time to not want to laugh, so believe me when I wanted to like this film because good knows, the way 2016 is heading we all could do with a chuckle. Comedies are always difficult to parse for critics, humour is such an subjective quality, but its not difficult to see where a film is floundering to hit any cylinders, let alone come blasting out from its midtown Fire Department haunt. Still, I hear anecdotally that kids of both genders have been impressed and latched onto a rare presentation of women as professional scientists which is welcome, maybe the film won’t only be assessed for the wider issues of on-line misogny and racism which have dragged its box-office into the grave. The biggest villain in this whole sorry tale is Sony pictures, as revealed by that email hack last year it really has driven a once proud studio into the ground with these formless, risk-averse, bland committee constructed projects, yet another nail in the coffin of the reboot entities across the entire industry – see also Robocop, Total Recall, Predators, Fantastic Four, The Lone Ranger, Conan The Barbarian, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Escape From New York and on and on and on…..