Ghostbusters had a bit of a tough road ahead from the get-go. Many holding the original film in high regard found news of a reboot to be almost blasphemous, and then there were the naysayers that found issue with a redo led by women. Of course, those were ultimately worthless points; the real criticism came with the ill-received trailers and marketing. Well, after much hooblah, the film is finally here, and it’s time for an actual verdict. Is the film as shockingly bad as many had expected? No. Is it a surprisingly successful reboot? No.
Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) reunites with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig for a remake that loosely follows the basic premise of the 1984, albeit with four comedic actresses taking on lead roles this time around. Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, an academic that is ashamed to have co-authored a book on the paranormal with childhood friend Abby Yates (McCarthy). Wanting the book, and her name, taken down off the Internet, Erin decides to pay her old friend a visit. Abby hasn’t changed and is, alongside Kate McKinnon’s strange (and somewhat amusing) assistant Jillian Holtzmann, still researching the existence of the supernatural. It isn’t long before they come into contact with ghosts, hire an inept receptionist (Chris Hemsworth), and take on a fourth member, subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones).
Feig has made a career out of bringing out amusing performances from his actors. His brand of comedy and filmmaking has become recognisable, and it’s plastered across Ghostbusters. To be clear, this is a good thing. The director’s shorthand with his cast, particularly with McCarthy and Wiig, is easy to see, and the chemistry among the leads is tangible. If you’re a fan of these cast members, you’ll mostly find them to be amiable here, amusing at best, and frustratingly cringe-worthy and familiar at worst. Much like the film itself.
McCarthy does her thing, putting in a tiny variation on that persona she’s brought out time and time again. The same goes for Wiig, who, thankfully, knows when to underplay the familiar character traits and go for comedic subtlety. McKinnon and Jones are welcome additions to big-screen fare, although neither are given particularly memorable characters to play with. It’s McKinnon who gets to have a little more fun, clearly relishing the opportunity to infuse her character with a ton of peculiar qualities, even if they offer a fifty-fifty outcome when it comes to delivering laughs.
Hemsworth’s Kevin is a plus, although he often seems underused, often pushed to the side just when we’re hitting a nice comedic rhythm with his lovably incompetent persona.
While the cast puts in decent work, albeit in roles that are mostly in line with what they’re known for, the film simply doesn’t bring much to the table to take advantage of all the talent. It becomes obvious quite early on that we’re in for a film that may be unafraid of ghosts, but is all too afraid of taking any chances, in terms of both characterisation and narrative choices. It’s all detrimentally standard, a film that manages to line up a series of mixed sketches into a coherent sequence of events, without ever really raising the entertainment level too high above a pass.
Let’s not forget, this film is about malicious, supernatural entities that are threatening to take New York City. Without wanting to give too much away, the ghosts themselves are fun, with many nods given to the original material and somewhat enjoyable uses of 3D technology. Again, just when it seems as though the film might be onto a good thing, it holds back by having these spirits written in as part of much-bigger plan, and the film’s other villain is utterly forgettable, a cartoonish baddie that far outstays his at first enjoyably old-school welcome.
Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold, who previously worked together on The Heat, try to keep the energy going and aim to provide both fan service and original spins, but it all falls under the weight of effort, a strain that seems to be lingering around every scene. Not laughing? Well, we’ll keep this going for a while longer until you do. Still not? Okay, we’ll try a similar thing again in around 15 minutes. The screenplay is uneven, and it’s partly the result of wanting to balance a supernatural mystery narrative, complete with eye rolling mumbo-jumbo science-ish talk, and Feig’s willingness to let his cast relish in improvisational humour. Sure, they can bounce off each other well and it does occasionally result in a few laughs, but the improv tends to stand awkwardly in the film, stopping the plot dead in its tracks, and worse, often leading to painfully obvious edits as the film tries to move us back to the plot as smoothly as possible.
The source material aside, Ghostbusters is the type of film that should have worked. The cast is good, the supernatural element could provide excitement and scares to go along with the laughs, and you have a successful comedic director at the helm. And yet, it’s the source material that arguably works against the film. Feig and co. seem determined to stick to their tried-and-tested approach of female-driven comedy while adapting a much loved, memorable 80s pic, resulting in a mash up of ideologies that simply doesn’t work. Perhaps an original supernatural comedy would have been the way to go.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10