Mark Reviews Movies

Ghostbusters (2016)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Michael Kenneth Williams, Cecily Strong, Matt Walsh, Zach Woods, Charles Dance, Ed Begley Jr., Karan Soni, Steve Higgins, Bill Murray, Michael McDonald

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for supernatural action and some crude humor)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 7/15/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 14, 2016

The lesson of Ghostbusters, a reboot of the (perhaps too beloved—but that's a whole string of discussions that aren't pertinent to this movie) 1984 comedy, is that it's best to give a cast this good at doing what they do the chance to actually, well, do it. The original film understood that well enough that its plot and special effects never overshadowed the performers or, more importantly, the jokes. In that film, the characters wrote off the plot with a crooked grin and a sarcastic chuckle, and the effects themselves often existed just to present a gag (a giant cartoon logo made of marshmallow that terrorized New York City with a happy smile on its face, for example). Co-writer/director Paul Feig treats this version of the material as two separate entities: There's the comic stuff, and then there's the plot-heavy, visual-effects-laden stuff. Never the twain shall meet.

It must be said that this Ghostbusters is very funny when it's in comic mode, thanks to the four leads and an assortment of supporting players, and the movie is in comic mode for the entirety of the first act and the epilogue. The time in between those two sections—especially during the frantic, extended, and effects-packed climax—is the problem.

That's when Feig and Katie Dippold's screenplay overwhelms the cast with expository dialogue and the task of battling ghosts with perhaps too much sincerity. The jokes very well might be there during that lengthy portion of the movie, but if they are, they aren't Feig's primary concern.

The movie gets one, vital thing completely right, and that's in the casting. The four main characters here aren't mere shadows of the ones from the original film and its sequel. There's no direct link between the characters played by Bill Murray (appearing in a dead-end cameo as a skeptic of the paranormal), Dan Ackroyd (making a cameo to quote a line from the theme song), Ernie Hudson (At this point, is it necessary to say that he appears here, too?), and the late Harold Ramis. Instead, these four—all women, in case you somehow haven't heard yet—are unique entities (with one being particularly distinctive), unbeholden to the characters and actors who preceded them.

Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a physics professor at a prestigious New York university who's on track for tenure. She once believed in the supernatural but has since moved on to a more serious, legitimate field. A book she wrote years ago on the subject of ghosts is published without her knowledge by its co-author Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy. Abby still believes and has been trying to find evidence for the paranormal for decades without any luck.

Her current partner in such experiments is Jillian Holtzmann, played by Kate McKinnon as an unflappably confident walking id of an engineer whose only concern about the damage her inventions could cause is that they do some damage. For a taste of the specific and indescribable quality of the character, she thinks up seven uses for a cadaver that might be in the hearse they borrow for their ghost-hunting adventures. After the trio sets up a laboratory for their search for real ghosts (above a Chinese restaurant, since the rent on the old fire station is too high), Patty Tolan, a subway employee—who has a too-close encounter with a spirit—played by Leslie Jones, joins the team. Chris Hemsworth plays their ditzy receptionist, who either doesn't know how to or doesn't care to answer the phone, with a genial air of self-deprecation.

There's a fine dynamic between the lead quartet of characters, with Erin and Abby playing it relatively calm against the quirks of Holtzmann and Patty, as well as a real sense of teamwork among the actresses, each of whom is entirely comfortable with the seemingly improvised dialogue that they fire off at a rapid pace. The movie takes its time in allowing these characters to establish themselves and the movie itself to set up the decided shift in comic tone from the original. That change is welcome, since these characters are far less removed from the material than their predecessors (In other words, they actually appear to care about ghostbusting, instead of making it seem like a lark).

With the premise established, the movie takes a quick turn toward showing off its contraptions and otherworldly creatures. The plot involves a socially incompetent loner (Neil Casey) who wants to bring about the apocalypse by unleashing hordes of ghosts upon the city. Feig, who lets the actors run free with the material before that central story kicks into gear, seems uncertain of how to balance the humor with the plotting and effects (which are fine until the climax, when all of the action looks like its set against a digital fog machine). Everything starts to feel restrained by the formulaic narrative (which builds to yet another sequence of New York being destroy by some monstrous thing) that takes focus.

Feig's free-wheeling approach to comedy doesn't quite mesh with material that is as constrained by story and visual effects as this is. Basically, Ghostbusters stops being funny for too long of a stretch, despite the cast's best efforts.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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