“Bitches can’t catch no ghosts”, says a YouTube commenter in Ghostbusters, the most meta moment in a film that doesn’t contain nearly as many meta moments as you’d expect given the coverage surrounding it for the last two years. Aside from a few minor one-liners and one major sight gag, the fact that the new ghostbusting team lacks phalli has little-to-no impact on the actual movie. If you were to swap in four male leads of equal gifts, you’d have essentially the same movie. That’s all I’m going to say about that, because this new Ghostbusters carries with it numerous reasons for critique and praise, none of which have to do with what’s between the characters’ legs.
Co-written and directed by Paul Feig –the man behind recent hits such as Spy, The Heat, and Bridesmaids– the film shows off his ability to handle crass banter amongst peers but also confirms concerns some had about whether he was the right choice to helm a project inherently reliant on visual effects and eye-popping set pieces. Feig’s take is at its best when it isn’t concerned with ghosts at all. More specifically, it’s at its best when Kate McKinnon and a surprisingly hilarious Chris Hemsworth are given time to flex their comedic chops.
I wanted to cite those two early because the primary relationship in the film –the one that drives what amounts to a rather by the numbers, step one assemble the team, step two suffer growing pains, step three fight bad guys plot- is uninteresting and doesn’t provide the laughs it should considering the talent of the leads. I’m of course referring to Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, neither of whom seem particularly interested in utilizing their wackiness, which is precisely what’s made them two of the biggest comedy stars on the planet. Wiig acts mostly with her eyes here, and she gets exposed. McCarthy is more or less relegated to an everywoman duty, but she’s just zany enough to make her co-stars seem a little less so without being funny herself. This seems like an obvious, fundamental mistake. Perhaps Feig wanted to prove McCarthy has versatility. Maybe she does, but she sure as hell doesn’t show it here.
Leslie Jones is around as the streetwise member of the team. She adds life initially, but is quickly revealed to be a one-note character, and thus, all of the film’s comedic burden falls on McKinnon and Hemsworth- as a mad scientist and a too-dumb-to function receptionist, respectively. McKinnon is a tremendous physical comedian, as any regular SNL viewer knows, and the movie relies heavily on her. When McCarthy one-liners fail to land, the camera quickly cuts to McKinnon, who draws more laughs out of a speechless reaction than McCarthy or Wiig do with a monologue. The gender role reversal with Hemsworth is handled well. He’s brought along because he’s hot, and Hemsworth does a fine job playing dumb. One can only hope he lands more comedic roles in the future, as he’s very capable.
Visually, the ghosts and their backgrounds look nice. There’s some nice coloring and layering that I’d imagine looks even better in 3D. There are some minor action sequences in the film’s first half that are up to snuff, but the final act is so sloppily edited and overdone that the digital artists’ solid work is drowned out. The climactic sequences lack any sense of space and quickly turn into the same CGI shitstorm that was so heavily lambasted in other summer films such as Independence Day: Resurgence. This matters not, really. At the end of the day, “Ghostbusters”, as an entity, is a comedy first and foremost. The lack of thrills could be easily written off if the movie was, you know, actually funny.
This is also a film very much aware of its roots. There are countless visual, narrative, and spoken callbacks to the original. Cameos, sight gags, the whole nine yards. They’re hit-or-miss. There’s certainly enough nostalgia to make thirty-somethings smirk but said nostalgia fails to add anything to this re-imagining that has sold itself on being fresh.
I know this is a very brief review, and for that I apologize, I just can’t think of much more to add. Ghostbusters fails on every level except being a coming out party for a couple cast members. It’s jokes are safe; the banter lifeless. It doesn’t reinvent anything nor does it work as an homage to a simpler era of movies. This is a bad movie, and I hope its awfulness doesn’t hinder the career options for the talented folks involved.