Ghostbusters (2016)

*. This movie became a surprising cultural flashpoint. How sad. I say that because there was nothing surprising or provocative about its premise, which was simply to update a classic comedy from the 1980s and give it an all-female cast. When I first heard that this was in the works I thought it was a terrific idea, and still do. Why then was it so controversial?
*. I guess it had something to do with what was going on in America at the time. For whatever reason a reaction against a perceived “political correctness” was cresting. And so the idea of making the new team of ghostbusters women triggered Internet mobs who went on the attack even before the film was released. It was all stupid and ugly.
*. Unfortunately, the movie itself really isn’t that good. It’s certainly far from terrible, but it’s a letdown given the property they had to work with and the talent assembled. What went wrong? Was it the PC mentality?
*. Hardly. The real culprit, as so often, is the script. There’s just not a lot of good material here. (As an aside, you should watch the deleted jokes reel on the DVD as that stuff is all just as good as what they left in the movie. Plus you’ll get to see Sigourney Weaver’s cameo.)
*. Let me give you two examples of how the script comes up short.
*. (1) The logo. There was no need to explain the team’s development of the familiar “no ghost” logo. In the original film it’s just a given. But for some reason they thought they had to provide some background for it here. The answer? Have the ghostbusters ask a subway graffiti artist to describe the ghost he saw and have him spraypaint it on the wall, and then put a slash through it. How awkward can you get? This is a long scene. There is nothing funny about it at all. And it is totally unnecessary.
*. (2) The cameos. All of the original ghostbusters show up here, minus the late Harold Ramis. Everyone in the audience must have been primed to see them. But they are all wasted. Bill Murray plays a very unfunny debunker of the paranormal. Dan Aykroyd has a brief appearance as a churlish cabbie which again isn’t funny and where we don’t even believe in him as a cabbie. Ernie Hudson is the only one who comes out well, but his role (as Patty’s uncle) is just a drop in at the end.
*. The rest of the movie isn’t much better, and for the same reasons. There are some decent ideas, but they’re flubbed. Chris Hemsworth as a beefy secretary? Sure. But what’s funny about the part? He’s just another himbo. Kate McKinnon basically steals the show as the punk Holtzmann. Everybody else seems at a loss. And why, if they were going for a more progressive political message in the casting, is Leslie Jones the only non-professional (that is, without a Ph.D.) ghostbuster? Did the tough woman from (under) the streets have to be the only person of colour?
*. So, not a lot of funny stuff and not much of a plot either. It basically feels, plot-wise, like a mixed-up rehash of Ghostbusters and the unlamented Ghostbusters II. After all this time couldn’t they have come up with something, if not better, at least new?
*. I mentioned in my notes on Ghostbusters how the end of it had the feel of a Marvel Universe film before we knew of such things. Well, this Ghostbusters is even more of a chip off the Marvel block. And here’s the thing: when the portal to the other dimension opens and all the historical ghosties come pouring into the streets, forcing the women to fight them off with Holtzmann’s arsenal of homemade spirit-fighting devices, this is the best part of the film. And it shouldn’t be. It really, really shouldn’t be.
*. So it’s a disappointment. Not a total bust, but given the high expectations that came with it, a real let-down. This was reflected in its box office, which on the one hand was very good but because it was such a big production it was still considered a bomb. You live by the franchise, you die by the franchise. Those are the rules.

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4 thoughts on “Ghostbusters (2016)

  1. Tom Moody

    Why Americans (including some left-leaning ones) might have groaned when they heard this was being remade with an all-female cast:
    1) Failed sequels of beloved one-off hits are practically an institution. (This peaked twenty years ago when The Onion ran a photo of Jim Carrey as a smiling Grinch with the caption “Another fond childhood memory destroyed.”) It wasn’t hard to predict that the film would be exactly as bad as you describe in this review.
    2) Making a crummy sequel for no other reason than “balance” is the essence of what people mean when they talk about “political correctness.” It’s the American equivalent of Chinese posters of smiling factory workers. Some Hollywood execs feel better about themselves and no one is entertained or enlightened.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, I agree with you on (1). On (2) I’d like to give the Hollywood execs the benefit of the doubt (I know, I know) and think they weren’t just trying to be PC. I like to think that they thought they had a bunch of really good and reasonably commercial comic actresses and figured that a project like this would make a good showcase for their talents. The results were disappointing, but I don’t blame their trying to seem more progressive. Wonder Woman was more a political statement of a film (and possibly more cynical in this regard) and it was a huge success. Sometimes these things work out, sometimes they don’t.

      Reply
  2. Tom Moody

    If I were in the film biz and wanted to showcase some new female comic talent I would let them come up with their own concept and maybe even write the script! Probably their story wouldn’t be “three nerdy girls run a failing hi-tech ghost detecting business, suddenly boosted by an unexpected wave of supernatural phenomena emanating from a New York highrise.” Forcing the actresses to reboot an Ackroyd/Ramis property from the ’80s seems patronizing and I would even say sexist. American audiences can actually sniff out such hypocrisy (even if they express it poorly, along the lines of “hey, this is supposed to be a guy flick”).

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      I dunno. I’m sure they were mainly looking to cash in on the brand, but I still think having an all-woman Ghostbuster team was a good idea. It’s just that they didn’t do a good job with it. I think these reboots are hard because you want to give the audience something familiar but at the same time different. You really need a great script to make it work and they sure didn’t have that here.

      Reply

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