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GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) review

July 15, 2016

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written by: Katie Dippold and Paul Feig
produced by: Ivan Reitman and Amy Pascal
directed by: Paul Feig
rated: PG-13 (for supernatural action and some crude humor)
runtime: 116 min.
U.S. release date: June 15, 2016

 

Do I wish that these talented funny ladies were in a comedy that wasn’t surrounded by so much unnecessary controversy? Sure. Am I disappointed that Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are starring in a reboot/remake of “Ghostbusters”, one of the best comedies of the 80s? No. Not at all. I had a lot of fun watching this movie and I can’t say that for many other comedies released this year. It’s that sitting-back-and-enjoying-seeing a movie unfold on the big-screen kind of feeling. Director Paul Feig, who co-wrote this with his writing partner from “The Heat”, Katie Dippold, made that possible. So, the good news is: this is a fun and often laugh-out-loud hilarious comedy with a witty and loose script featuring actors that are having an absolute blast. It takes nothing away from what come before it, but that’s up to you. 

The bad news: there will always be unsatisfied whiners and complainers. More on that in a bit….

Nebbish physics professor Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is trying to make tenure at New York City’s Columbia University, but when a paranormal investigation book she co-wrote with her old partner, Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy) earns some online traffic, she implores Yates to pull the book in order to maintain her respectability. Yates, who is currently working at realizing the theories covered in their book at a technical college with eccentric engineer, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (an enthusiastic McKinnon, brimming with energy at every turn), agrees, only if Gilbert introduces them to the representative (a game Ed Begley Jr.) from a local old mansion, who had already invited Gilbert to check out apparent paranormal activity at his haunted workplace.

After they come face-to-face with an angry apparition, which results in viral footage that gets them fired from their day jobs, the unemployed-yet-excited trio decide to go into their own ghost investigation business. They make residence above the local Chinese takeout spot Yates always orders from, calling themselves “The Department of the Metaphysical Examination” (not very catchy) and work on getting clients. Once savvy MTA worker, Patty Tolan (Jones) sees a blue ghost floating above the subway tracks, she pays these “Ghostbusters” – a name the media gives them – a visit and convinces these science geeks of her valuable street smarts would be to the team.

 

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Now a quartet, the four women hire a receptionist, Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth), a dim bulb beefcake and soon the newly formed team are up and running, investigating any legitimately reported ghost sightings with the hope of capturing and containing their first ghost, despite the media and the mayor’s office claiming the ladies are frauds.

Meanwhile, we learn the suspicious and weird Rowan North (Neil Casey) is behind the rising appearances of spectral forms and it looks like the occultist’s secret plan is to let loose the Fourth Armageddon. With increasing spectral activity occurring, the Ghostbusters get busy, using an assortment of new weapons at their disposal and becoming more and more confident they are the heroes to save the city.

Like so many others, I always thought that if there was to be a “Ghostbusters” sequel, I would’ve wanted it with the original cast. But because of Sony and Bill Murray dragging their feet and, ultimately, the death of Harold Ramis – that’ll never happen. Fine. There was even talk of a screenplay where the remaining three passing the torch to the roster of funnymen on deck: think Stiller, Franco, Rogen (or whoever, etc). No thanks. Then something totally different was announced – four female Ghostbusters! Okaay. I can get behind that. But apparently, the internet wasn’t having it as typical outrage, whining and complaining could be heard across social media, blogs and IMDb. (People have too much time on their hands).

It’s not like the director, Ivan Reitman or co-writer/actor Dan Aykroyd from the previous movies stated the idea was an awful or that they wouldn’t be involved (they both serve as producers here). In fact, A couple years ago when I attended a double feature screening of the original “Ghostbusters” and “Blues Brothers” with Aykroyd in attendance, I vividly recall him stating he was basically retired and ready to “hand over comedies to the Melissa McCarthys and the Kristen Wiigs” – not long after, this cast was announced with director Paul Feig at the helm. Even coming from Aykroyd’s mouth, people were still unsatisfied.

Then it was announced that everyone from the original cast would show up in this “Ghostbusters” (even Ramis) – save for the long-retired Rick Moranis – only not as the characters they’re known for. Fans were still unsatisfied. For the record, I felt the cameos were just okay, maybe a little forced and kind of like the celebrity cameos we’re used to in the Muppet movies. (You’ll wanna stay through all of the end credits for Sigourney Weaver and then to the very end for a stinger that acknowledges the first movie).

Months ago, Aykroyd announced on social media, “Saw test screening of new movie. Apart from brilliant, genuine performances from the cast both female and male, it has more laughs and more scares than the first 2 films, plus Bill Murray is in it! As one of the millions of man-fans and Ray Stantz, I’m paying to see that and bringing all my friends!” Even after reading that, from the originator himself, fans were still unsatisfied (you should see the volatile comments that followed), proving there’s just no pleasing everyone. Now, you may think, of course he’s gonna say that, his an executive producer. Regardless, Aykroyd felt that strongly, so good for him. I still had an open mind and without vowing to never see this movie, I knew I had to see it for myself.

Considering how much I’ve enjoyed “Bridesmaids”, “The Heat” and last year’s “Spy”, all helmed by Paul Feig and taking into consideration everything I’ve heard about the movie, I remained optimistic – even after those mediocre trailers hit. I will say that it feels like Feig is catering to a brand name since his style is better suited to an R-rated edge. But like, the first movie, this will be a gateway horror comedy for some kids (it’s only slightly scarier than last fall’s “Goosebumps“), so the movie has to be understandably reeled in some.

As the movie opens we see a tour guide (Zach Woods of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”)  of the aforementioned mansion mention to his group that the designer of this 19th century relic included such features as a “face bidet” and an “anti-Irish security fence”, in a matter-of-fact tone that earned quite a laugh – but, you had to pay attention for such a laugh. These random moments of humor in the screenplay are present throughout the film, as well as call-backs to the previous films, but again – you have to be paying attention. You also have to have an open mind (imagine that) and, in turn, you should find yourself enjoying this movie.

It’s not perfect though. The antagonist isn’t fully-realized (it seems like he’s a pawn of a larger, more ominous presence, but it’s never revealed who/what that is) and his switching corporal forms is a bit of a cop-out, albeit an entertaining one. At times, there’s a bit too much “fan-service” considering there’s both Slimer and Stay Puft making return appearances, which is ironic considering all the uproar from “the fans”.

Visually, “Ghostbusters”  looks better than the 1984 movie and that’s not a knock, it’s just that the advance in visual effects compared to the practical effects used in Reitman’s serviceable aesthetic. The production design and art direction here is often bright and colorful with a glossy sheen that accentuates the ghostly characters in the movie. Much of that is due to cinematographer Robert Yeoman, who’s lensed Feig’s “Spy” and worked with Wes Anderson on “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Moonrise Kingdom“. He gives the movie a vibrant, distinctive look that rises above the two previous movies.

 

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ILLUSTRATION BY TOMER HANUKA

 

Of the performances, I had a feeling I would enjoy McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon and Jones – and I certainly did. They all work together terrifically. But the MVP of the foursome is definitely McKinnon, who, in the trailers, just came across as kind of annoying. (Note:  the whole movie felt annoying in the trailers, but after watching this I realized that for possibly the first time ever, here was a movie that was much better than its marketing. The scenes in the trailers that were played for laughs yet felt flat, were hilarious in context, which is a new experience). Maybe it’s because we’re familiar with what McCarthy and Wiig are capable of, but McKinnon was a revelation to me. She is quirky and squirrely and a total “comfortable in her own skin” geek and I loved it. Being only vaguely familiar with her SNL work, I found myself wanting more and more of her. As Holtzmann, she becomes the team’s gadget creator and winds up stealing the show in a climactic action sequence at the end with some of her own secret weapons.

There’s obvious big nostalgia love (why wouldn’t there be?) for the previous two movies in this “Ghostbusters” (I can’t think of a way to differentiate this movie from the original without using this before mentioning the title – I’m certainly not calling it “Ghostbusters 2016”, since that’s too close to that wretched “Blues Brothers” sequel) and I have a hunch that the same folks who bemoaned that “The Force Awakens” was too much like “A New Hope”, will take that same stance here. I didn’t care about any of that last December and I don’t care about it now. I don’t necessarily disagree with that line of thought, either. That last “Star Wars” movie and this “Ghostbusters” movie are simply re-establishing the tone and feel of what proceeded them – integrating viewers back into that universe, if you will and naturally added in some new elements as well. Indeed there are call-backs and homages present, but this “Ghostbusters” never bored me or felt like a lazy retread like so many 80s remakes (“Total Recall” and “The Thing” comes to mind) . In fact, it’s doing something I wish more unnecessary remakes would do – offer something unique and different.

To me, the original “Ghostbusters” from to be a classic. That 1984 movie along with some other choice SNL-alum comedies from the late 70s and early 80s really shaped my funny bone to what it is now. Ivan Reitman’s movie isn’t perfect, but it was one of those seminal movie’s from my childhood that taught me about ad-libbing, how to tenaciously flirt and how to be cool (not that I was very good with ANY of that, but it left an impression) as well as how to kid around with your dude friends – all thanks to Ramis and Ayroyd’s screenplay and their interplay with Murray.

Recently, there are critics and moviegoers alike, who are now claiming the original “Ghostbusters” isn’t all that, in fact, some are saying it’s sexist garbage. That’s the thing to do nowadays: take a successful, much-beloved movie that either received a Best Picture Oscar (“Braveheart” or “Forrest Gump”, for example) or was well-received when it came out and eventually lauded within pop culture – and rip it to shreds. I don’t get it. I could see revisiting such a movie after some time has passed and then realize it’s just not as good as you thought it was or it doesn’t hold up – but, to say it’s “garbage”, especially “Ghostbusters”, which had legitimately hilarious performances from some very talented actors, is ridiculous. At least understand and acknowledge the cultural impact that movie had in the 80s and move on (End of Rant).

So, to all the “Ghostbros” (that’s a thing, I guess) that vow to not see this, I hope they stand their ground and never see this movie – they don’t deserve it. More open-minded and curious moviegoers will check this “Ghostbusters” out and will hopefully like it as much as I did. If not, that’s fine too. After all, there’s worse things to complain about or get worked up over, in the real world and now playing in theaters.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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