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Ghostbusters (2016) Movie Review

Ghostbusters (2016) movie poster Ghostbusters

Theatrical Release: July 15, 2016 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Paul Feig / Writers: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig (screenplay); Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd (1984 film Ghostbusters)

Cast: Melissa McCarthy (Abby Yates), Kristen Wiig (Erin Gilbert), Leslie Jones (Patty Tolan), Kate McKinnon (Jillian Holtzmann), Charles Dance (Harold Filmore), Michael Kenneth Williams (Agent Hawkins), Chris Hemsworth (Kevin Beckman), Neil Casey (Rowan North), Cecily Strong (Jennifer Lynch), Matt Walsh (Agent Rorke), Ed Begley Jr. (Ed Mulgrave Jr.), Zach Woods (Tour Guide), Nate Corddry (Graffiti Artist), Bill Murray (Martin Heiss), Michael McDonald (Jonathan the Theater Manager), Toby Huss (Officer Stevenson), Andy Garcia (Mayor Bradley), Ozzie Osbourne (Famous Rock Star), Katie Dippold (Rental Agent), Annie Potts (Desk Clerk), Dan Aykroyd (Cabbie), Al Roker (Himself), Ernie Hudson (Uncle Bill), Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Rebecca Gorin)

 

Rumblings of a third Ghostbusters movie date all the way back to the mid-1990s. Columbia Pictures, then recently acquired by Sony, had apparent interest, as they should have, this franchise then being their most commercially successful ever. Screenwriters Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd had interest in telling a new story with their most beloved alter egos.
Bill Murray, reportedly, was not interested in reprising his iconic role of Peter Venkman, having been disappointed, for some reason, by the perfectly wonderful Ghostbusters II. It was hard to envision a Ghostbusters movie without the comic dynamo cracking wise.

Over the years, few industry journalists missed an opportunity to ask Murray about his interest in another sequel and got a variation of a soft "no" each time. Clearly, Murray did not have a great deal of enthusiasm for the sequel as conceived by Aykroyd and Ramis, the latter of whom he had been feuding with since clashing on Groundhog Day. Enjoying a career renaissance with writer-director Wes Anderson, Murray needed another Ghostbusters less than it needed him. But he clearly wasn't completely apathetic to his biggest hit, reprising the role vocally for 2009's video game and also donning the old tan jumpsuit in Zombieland and at the 2010 Scream Awards. Then, Ramis died in early 2014, years after reports of a new script being penned by a couple of writers from NBC's "The Office" (who also scripted Ramis' unloved final film Year One) went nowhere. What hope would there be of another sequel without Egon Spengler?

Then, just a few months later, Sony found someone seemingly capable of reviving this franchise in an interesting new way that appealed to both critics and the masses: Paul Feig, the director of the blockbuster comedies Bridesmaids, The Heat, and, later, Spy. Like those movies, this Ghostbusters -- a remake, not a sequel -- would cast Melissa McCarthy and other funny women in the leading roles. And now, after copious amounts of cynicism, 2016's Ghostbusters has arrived with an all-female lineup and the challenge of winning over those who grew up with and remain protective of the highly-regarded '80s originals, some of whom helped give this version somehow the most-disliked trailer on all of YouTube.

The newly assembled lady Ghostbusters (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon deal with the slimy aftermath of a subway ghost encounter.

Early critic reviews have been favorable, but that may not be enough to ease skepticism from a retread-weary public that has given the movie an under-4.0 out of 10 rating pre-release on IMDb largely sight unseen seemingly in some form of retaliation to the charges of misogyny with which the viral negativity has been met.

Its screenplay attributed to Feig and his fellow Heat scribe Katie Dippold, an alumna of "Parks and Recreation", this new Ghostbusters opens with a tourable New York City mansion living up to its haunted reputation by endangering a guide amidst a slimy green glow. Next, we go to Columbia University (actually named this time), where buttoned-up physics professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is on the cusp of receiving tenure. It's an inopportune time for her to learn that an embarrassing book about ghosts she wrote with a former friend is on sale again at Amazon. Erin tracks down that friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who is still investigating the paranormal out of a small technical college with the assistance of wild-haired blonde Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon).

Although Jillian's hairdo resembles that of the animated "Real Ghostbusters" incarnation of Egon, these characters do not clearly align with the four heroes of Ivan Reitman's original, save for one. Subway station employee Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) emerges as the Winston Zeddemore of this piece, an African-American civilian with no science background who is nonetheless willing to help the cause.

With our four-member team established, all that's left to do is hire a receptionist, which the ladies do in Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), a handsome, odd Australian with frameless eyeglasses and no qualifications whatsoever. Calls of ghost sightings start coming in, to which the ladies, now clad in matching jumpsuits, respond, using their volatile technical gadgets to trap these apparitions and multisyllabic vocabularies to explain away. New York's mayor (Andy Garcia) asks these Ghostbusters to declare themselves frauds, to enable Homeland Security to deal with the otherworldly phenomena they've recognized.

The Ghostbusters (Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones) use their proton packs to combat the ghosts terrorizing New York City.

As someone whose even highly abridged favorite movies list has never been without either Ghostbusters movie since first seeing them nearly thirty years ago, I should have a strong reaction to this reboot, but I don't. Obviously, this Ghostbusters had no real chance of supplanting either of the other two in my heart (and I maintain that Ghostbusters II is an absurdly underrated sequel on par with the original, despite relying on the same blueprint).
But I hoped I could still enjoy it, seeing as how the same concepts that made those two '80s comedies so special and rewatchable throughout my life would be in place here. And though I've enjoyed Feig's films (even if the best still pales to "Freaks and Geeks", the first TV show he created) and the women he casts, this one left me pretty flat.

Wiig and McCarthy have proven themselves to be very funny with the right material and I'm sure that current "Saturday Night Live" players McKinnon and Jones are too. But here, they're asked to fill the giant shoes of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Ernie Hudson and to compete with the memories that thirty-plus years and shared nostalgia have rendered incomparable. There are some amusing bits, the best of which may be the reference to the mayor from Jaws. But the dynamic is never as appealing as the one in our mind and there isn't the novelty of that concept first being explored.

Of course, Feig and company take efforts to make sure this new version sits well with fans of the original. To that end, there are many, many nods, from a "That's A Big Twinkie" billboard in Times Square to the use of the actual Hook & Ladder 8 firehouse in Tribeca to a prominent bronze bust of Egon to an homage to Rick Moranis' Tavern on the Green disruption. Such touches are fairly clever and clearly performed with affection. But it's not good when you're deriving more enjoyment from being reminded of another movie than from the one you're currently watching.

Surviving principal cast members from the original films, minus the mostly retired Moranis, pop up in cameos, playing new characters, but again, there is more pleasure in the homage than in the scenarios. For example, Bill Murray somehow fails to even make us crack a smile in his two scenes as a cranky debunker (who feels like a disciple of Walter Peck). Aykroyd as a cabbie and Annie Potts as a hotel clerk get to deliver some iconic lines from Ghostbusters past, while it's something of a relief to see that Hudson and Sigourney Weaver have not been cut out, appearing post-climax after you start to have doubts.

There's a new take on Ray Parker Jr.'s iconic titular theme song by Fall Out Boy featuring Missy Elliott that may make you long for Run D.M.C.'s Ghostbusters II version. At least Parker's original gets played up front, yet another instance where there can be no substitute.

Slimer green prominently features in the film to an extent it did not in the two predecessors.

Like Feig's other movies, this new Ghostbusters runs a little long. Like many modern tentpoles, it relies too much on action and visual effects. The original movie received an Oscar nomination for visual effects and while some of those analog illusions still impress, they were never the primary attraction. It was the chemistry and camaraderie of the guys, the humorous depiction of a present-day apocalypse in New York, and those many offbeat exchanges that soon emblazoned into your mind. This one has a completely unremarkable villain (Neil Casey playing an evil spirit occupying a world-hating apocalyptic hotel bellhop), a random Halloween night Thanksgiving Day-style parade, a lady Slimer (don't worry, the male one is there too),
and a CG personification of the Ghostbusters logo. The wacky Jillian is intended to steal scenes, but does not. Even so, she gets more laughs than Wiig and McCarthy do, largely and strangely playing things pretty straight. In the pantheon of world-saving Sony summer sci-fi comedies, this plays more like Pixels or the weak middle Men in Black installment than the pair of movies sharing its title.

Sony wanted the built-in recognition that came with resurrecting what is probably the studio's most endearing original brand. In getting that, they also have to deal with the fact that they're inevitably competing with esteemed triumphs made a generation ago when movie tastes and compositions were quite different from what they are now. It's not really all that different from what the studio experienced on their hybrid Smurfs movies or what Paramount is facing on their new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films. Nostalgia is great at selling tickets, but it's also a recipe for disappointment and vocal backlash.

While you do have to endure a long end credits reel full of Chris Hemsworth dancing, you might want to stay to the end for a post-credits scene if the word "Zuul" means anything to you.

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Melissa McCarthy: St. Vincent Identity Thief | Kristen Wiig: Welcome to Me Girl Most Likely The Spoils of Babylon

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Reviewed July 15, 2016.



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