The 2016 iteration of Ghostbusters serves as a remake of its 1984 predecessor (note: most decidedly not a reboot or sequel in any sense). Those who recall the now iconic and beloved previous films will find the premise here familiar—three scientists (Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Kate McKinnon) whose interests focus on the occult band together as they are shunned and disregarded by the mainstream academic community. When they experience a supernatural encounter, and learn of a grander sinister plot in the works, they band together with a mass transit worker (Leslie Jones) and form the Ghostbusters.
What works for Ghostbusters are the characters, and the obvious love and respect director Paul Feig clearly has for the original film. In particular, Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth are fantastically memorable with nearly every syllable and physical tick eliciting laughter. McKinnon plays Dr. Jill Holtzman, an eccentrically playful engineer who should never be allowed to tinker with an electric toothbrush, let alone a nuclear accelerator, and the joy she exhibits at everything she encounters is infectious. Hemsworth takes his, now signature, charisma and swirls it with affable dopiness in his character of Kevin—a gender swapping riff on the sexy secretary stereotype. The result is delightfully silly performance that seems effortless, but only due to the proof that Hemsworth truly has a talent for comedic timing and delivery.
Feig recognizes that his work will inevitably stand on the brown jumpsuit-covered shoulders of what came before it, and does his best to honor that fact. Fans of the original will likely enjoy the myriad of Easter eggs, abundant enough to make an omelet that would satiate Stay Puft. These references—lighting, sound effects, costumes, and even framing shots—fortunately come off as an homage, rather than derivative. Feig wants Ghostbusters to enjoy sipping some nostalgic-laden Ecto-Cooler while they watch, and that will likely result in smiles.
While Ghostbusters proves enjoyable, particular due some strong performances and knowing nods, Feig often times deviates from the formula, and exhibits distrust in the secret weapon, that that made the 1984 film great—the script. Some of the greatest moments in Ghostbusters 2016 are the ones that allow the characters to interact and react naturally with their peers and the spectral behavior floating around them, but these are scant as the film is peppered with an over-reliance on physical gags.
In the original, Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) memorably gets attacked by a bulbous neon green ghoul. When Ray (Dan Akyroyd) comes to his aid, Venkman replies with deadpan disgust, “He slimed me.” Ray exclaims, “that’s great!!! Actual physical contact—can you move?!” Both performers stay in-character and it is the believable exchange creates the humor. In Ghostbusters 2016, we get an elongated sequence of McCarthy’s character breaking the laws of physics like a ragdoll as she is propelled backwards around an alley as she tests her proton pack. These are not equal.
Furthermore, Feig’s efforts to honor the 1984 film often get pushed too far. Cameos are fun fan-service, and sneaking in old clips of dialogue can work well, but Feig sometimes uses these devices as a crutch, rather than a medium to enrich the experience. So many old faces make an appearance, mostly in odd ways, that it suffers from “telling the same joke three times” problem. In other instances, you can almost visualize where Feig hacked open his script to force in a line or catch-phrase like trying to squeeze a Twinkie into a key hole on a gate.
Finally, what makes Ghostbusters 1984 brilliant was its blend of comedy and thrills. The two work together in glorious harmony in such a way that has yet to be replicated. Ghostbusters 2016 tries earnestly to succeed at both these aims as well, but never quite commits to pursue either to the degree necessary. The ghosts in particular are more artistically complex, thanks to an over-reliance on computer generated imagery, and not in a good way. Feig seems more proud of the look of his ghoulish creations than he is about the effect the have on the narrative or contributing to audience engagement.
Ghostbusters 2016 is likely to amuse most, but will probably be relegated to the damnation of forgotten films before long.
Final Grade: B
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures