I ain’t afraid of no girls.
Ironically, the women in the rebooted Ghostbusters are not the problem. The problem is with the script, editing, and, most tellingly, the direction.
Film comedy has changed since the premiere of the original film in 1984, resulting in television comedy (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep, Broad City, Louie, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Bob’s Burgers, You’re the Worst, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Inside Amy Schumer, Rick and Morty, just to name a FEW) pushing the envelope while movie comedy is stuck in an annoyingly diffuse, arrested adolescent, rut.
Back in the day, the wild ideas of Dan Aykroyd, the structure of Harold Ramis, and the human details of Bill Murray resulted in a wildly propulsive, consistently surprising, and delightful classic. In his attempt to honor the original, but stay true to the loose, improvisational tone of his recent output (Bridesmaids, Spy), Paul Feig has fashioned a sadly flaccid, disappointing remake that lets down almost everyone on screen AND in the audience.
Saturday Night Live maestro Lorne Michaels, and his burgeoning influence on late night television, awards shows, and comedy in general, has had a blanching effect on this kind of film. When the overwhelming majority of SNL skits spotlight a rude, deluded character and, maybe more importantly, the passive witnesses who take his or her abuse way beyond what any normal person would tolerate – all wrapping up in the now de rigueur non-ending — it creates an unreal, uninvolving, even annoying atmosphere.
One of the glories of the original Ghostbusters were the characters Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and the rest created – characters I liked, admired, and rooted for. Even not compared to them, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are essentially ciphers whose only distinguishing characteristics are ultimately ill-chosen. Compare, for instance, Rick Moranis’s character in the original and Chris Hemsworth’s character in the new version. Moranis played a nerd whose behavior was on a razor’s edge of believability. Hemsworth plays an empathy-free, ridiculously idiotic, narcissist who is only tolerated because the moon-eyed Wiig character finds him sooooooooo handsome. That made me dislike both characters (and it certainly didn’t help when Feig totally missed the Hemsworth character’s one, obvious, chance at redemption during the climax).
That was just one of many missed opportunities in the new effort, which chooses to wander around, rather than run down the road. Every time a joke seems about to be born, the lackadaisical approach nips it in the bud. Another seeming attempt to give Wiig a developing character came when she appeared to be the sole target for supernatural slime baths. It would have been cool if every time slime was spewed, through accident or fate, it wound up hitting Wiig – a running joke that could be played with, and paid off, at the finale. But no. In fact, this film could be made a prime example of how NOT to develop characters.
Since Kate McKinnon is handed the “wild card” role (which she handles with charisma and star power no matter how the editing tries to isolate her), McCarthy is left to just generically chirp. Whatever anyone thought of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Moranis, and Annie Potts in the original, they and the rest of the cast were serving the needs of a tight, smart, story, and behaved as if it were actually true. Here, everyone seems to think that they are in some sort of SNL skit where you react to stupid behavior with passive tolerance. Again and again, they stand around when they should run, react to staggering situations with bland acceptance, and smile weakly when they should be screaming.
Thankfully, the film is not a total wash. The aforementioned McKinnon emerges elevated, Leslie Jones is admirable in a fairly thankless role, and the cameos are a welcome (albeit self-conscious) relief from the loose goose the film was threatening to become. Plot-wise, there’s actually a cracker-jack hundred-minute movie in this bloated hundred and seventeen minute exercise in dissipating forward momentum. The thing finally starts picking up speed in the home stretch, but that only made me wish the accelerator had been pressed much earlier, and there were far fewer pot-holes in the road even then.
Even so, the end credits did their darndest to help me leave the cinema smiling, even rubbing in an elaborate missed opportunity during the bulk of them. Despite my reservations, if the après-end credit sequel-bait scene comes to fruition, yeah, I’ll go see it … if, for nothing else, McKinnon.