In 2016, we’ve had a rash of heated political disassociation and social upheavals that have made our country as divisive as it was in the years leading to the Civil War. The mass slaughter of innocent blacks, the constant debate regarding our barely-regulated firearms trade, and the possible positioning of a total madman to a seat of power that would guarantee the end of any respect we have left – all of these are a mere sample of the endless issues coming to light in a year many will one day describe to their grandchildren as “9/11, but an entire year long.” Another hot-button issue has drawn particular vitriol and scorn from venomous anonymous trolls and sociopaths who want nothing more than to see the arrest of the police officer – wait, one second, wrong card – oh, they don’t want a remake of Ghostbusters. Right. A well-picked battle indeed!
The new Ghostbusters has been known about for quite a while now, and its pre-release days have seen levels of negativity typically reserved for Applebees and black Heads of State. The new film – to be directed by Paul Feig – would feature an all-new Ghostbusters team, comprised entirely of women. Was this a bad/dumb idea? No, I was completely on-board when I heard the news. It was no secret that the franchise was going to be remade; why not do it with an unexpected but refreshing twist, one that empowers young girls and gives a team of very funny women a tentpole summer blockbuster? I’m also a fan of Feig’s Spy, although I wasn’t too hot on Bridesmaids. The entire runtime of Bridesmaids seemed dedicated to focusing on not putting any reins on the actors involved, and letting them have a free-for-all. More on that later, though.
So which would it be? The long, unfunny “loose improv” scenes that tied together Bridesmaids? Or the tighter, action-oriented comedy of Spy? The answer is neither: this movie makes both of those films look like Goodfellas. Ghostbusters is a shockingly unfunny, poorly-paced film that has some of the worst writing I’ve seen in a recent studio release.
Now, before we get started, I think it’s important to point out that the vitriol for this new Ghostbusters isn’t entirely related to its all-woman cast. There’s an understandable argument that the original shouldn’t be remade at all because it’s a classic. While I sympathize with this argument, it’s still flawed in my eyes because we no longer live in a time where remakes are easier to replace as the “definitive” version of that movie; with much thanks to social media, the original versions of these remakes/reboots are getting much more gratitude as the inspirations for these revivals. Ghostbusters doesn’t take the Jurassic World route of introducing these characters in an already-established universe; it completely erases the original film and re-introduces us to its general plot of ghostbusting. This is a massive mistake; it unnecessarily assumes we need to see the origins of Proton Packs or the logo (all of which are terribly done), and reduces the cast of the original to hammy, stupid, pointless cameos. Even the late Harold Ramis shows up in the form of a bust (pun intended) in a character’s office; the movie wants you to know that it’s a tribute because the shot lingers about 2 seconds too long on it. At least it beats the shitty fan tributes to Ramis:
The film opens in a great way: it’s a cold-open in an old mansion, where a ghost tour is being led (Zach Woods from Silicon Valley has a very funny bit here). The tour ends, and as the guide is leaving for the night, he’s attacked by a ghoul. Simple, punchy setup. I like it! So we’re introduced to Erin (Kristin Wiig), who is a tenured university professor, and who has written a book with Abby (Melissa McCarthy) about the paranormal. The former fact is something she’s been trying to keep secret, for fear that it would affect the latter; this is a conflict that makes no sense to me at all: the Dean tells her he thinks it would jeopardize the legitimacy of the institution or whatever, but would that really be a threat? Abby works with Jillian (Kate McKinnon) at a different, shittier university, where they tinker with paranormal doodads and googahs. Erin asks Abby to take the book off of Amazon, and Abby agrees under the condition that they check out the possibly haunted mansion from earlier. On the other side of town, Patty (Leslie Jones) encounters a ghost while she’s working as an MTA attendant. Pretty soon, all 4 of them link up & start to take on a bunch of ghosts, and I start to forget where the plot goes from here because it’s so terribly written it feels like it’s 5 hours long.
The four leads in the movie are funny women. If anything, the weak link in the squad is Kristin Wiig, who has this fucking awkward-girl schtick that wears very thin, very fast. McCarthy is pretty good here, but is honestly wasted by a completely square character that only exists to be the lead’s friend. I really liked McKinnon, who’s been drawing a lot of divisiveness over her performance; some people don’t like the weird faces and general aura she exudes in the movie, but I feel like she played the “weirdo that everyone calls by their last name” character to a tee. Chris Hemsworth is the all-star of the movie (in a sadly ironic twist) playing a total dumbass not unlike Jason Statham’s outlandish character from Spy. The real tragedy here is Leslie Jones, who is a favorite of mine from SNL, being used as a very 2-dimensional simulacrum of a sassy black woman. True, her character is a history buff, but that’s such a dumb fucking character detail it’s almost laughable in itself. She’s a history buff??? She works at the MTA and has a fucking gold necklace with her name on it, and she’s a history buff? All of her lines regarding history are shoehorned in for the plot to move along, and any other line she has is just screaming and panicking. She has one moment at a concert scene that’s hilarious, but she’s sadly completely wasted in this movie.
It’s honestly like watching a Nickelodeon show. The writing, the performances, the direction – it’s all so basic and juvenile. And I don’t mean juvenile in that the humor is crude (although it has fart jokes and other dumb gross shit), I mean it’s as if everyone involved with the movie was 13 years old. There’s a moment – this fucking moment – in this movie; I don’t know why it upsets me this much, but it does: the team is facing down their first ghost, and during the tension it’s revealed that McKinnon is snacking on Pringles. Pringles. Which is already a stupid sight gag, only made worse by McKinnon’s response to their demands that she stop: “You try stopping from snacking on these delicious salty parabolas.” I want to punch that line in its mouth. Seriously, the last line in the movie is Ernie Hudson saying “I can’t stack ’em like flapjacks!” Boom! Closing credits! “Leave ’em laughing,” they say!
The plot is so poorly constructed, it hurts to watch. And it adheres so closely to basic story structure that it’s ultimately hurt even worse. We’re introduced to the members, see the team form, meet a bad guy, see the 4th member added, have them test equipment & go on a first major mission, go on what is supposedly the last mission, fail, disband temporarily, re-team when the final threat looms over the city (bonus points if its New York!), make a sacrifice, chum it up in the end. “I can’t stack ’em like flapjacks!” It’s a giant “Basic Blockbuster” template, one that applies to 95% of Hollywood movies. The villain, whose plan is to rule the world – by unleashing ghosts? And becoming a ghost? I don’t know – has maybe 20 lines in the movie. 5 of them are in voiceover form, where he explains to the team that he can take the form of anything they want – a nod to the original that I’m sure the writers thought was clever but is just tacky. He fucking goads them into having him become the logo of the movie, through (roughly) this exchange:
Bad Guy: You want me to become something bad?
Patty: How about something nice?
Bad Guy: Okay. [turns into logo] How’s this?
Patty: You know what, that’s cool.
I wonder how long Feig and Katie Dippold had to write this movie. It seems like they ran with the first draft; there was no fine-tuning of any of these ideas. And of course the classic Feig humor comes though, with overly-long scenes that get hung up on one joke being ran into the ground because they just have to use every take of these improv masters. How about write a fucking script? How hard is it to have a plot that doesn’t involve New York being put in danger? How hard is it to have efficiently-paced, tonally consistent scenes that don’t drag on forever? It only proves to me that Feig, while having a knack for recognizing comedic talent, just isn’t a good director. A very key role of the director is (obviously) to be able to control the actors, something that Feig seems to do poorly, if at all; he seemingly lets them go off on tangents and say whatever they want and always, always thinks it’s too funny to leave on the cutting-room floor. This isn’t the case for Ghostbusters alone (though it’s the most egregious example): Bridesmaids goes on for way too long, and would be a much punchier, tighter movie if the scenes were paced a little more evenly. Ghostbusters falls from the fatigue of carrying its own weight, a massive backpack of dumb references, queef gags and dad jokes that ultimately collapses upon Dan Aykroyd saying “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” without a hint of irony.
By the way, the theme song to this movie is fucking atrocious. Absolutely unbearable. Words can’t desribe the insanity of a Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliott team-up on a track that sounds like a Will Smith movie song & the year 2006 laid a big Cronenberg fetus on an operating table. It’s awful. I hope to god there isn’t a horrible mashup of “Own Our Own” in the sequel. It’s not just used over the closing credits, either: there’s a scene where the heroes gear up and this is used as the music, only pausing for a lame gag about 2 characters saying the same line at the same time.
OOF. This scene encapsulates so much of what’s wrong with the movie that I’ve talked about: awkward Kristin Wiig, bad music, weird fanservice, an underused Leslie Jones & shitty direction. Seriously, why does she just stand there at the end of that scene? Could she not have reacted at all to the bit aside form glancing at them? Showing a reaction in a scene and distracting the viewer from the focus can be mutually exclusive; McKinnon and Jones just stand there like video game characters posing.
On the note of “weird fanservice,” this movie has that in spades. It’s not even really that obnoxious, like Jurassic World, but it’s just so strange it’s hard to wrap your head around. Take Slimer, for example, who shows up and almost immediately tries to fucking kill the Ghostbusters. Like, not even how he “slimed” Bill Murray in the original – Slimer gets into a car and tries to run them all over. He’s a psychopath! I thought he was cool with Ghostbusters! Didn’t he help them out in that cartoon*?
Aside from Slimer (the title of my favorite Beckett play), the movie features references that come off as jabs at the franchise and its fans: the villain is a wimpy guy who speaks in odd neackbeard-isms; they literally fight the logo of the franchise in the middle of 1980s NYC; they shoot it in its dick with their proton packs; the cameo with the most popular cast member results in his death, etc. I’m not saying the shit this movie and its stars have had to endure from hate-filled assholes is in any way justified, but the way in which it shows zero decorum in its allusions makes it hard to have justified rooting for at all.
At this point, I’m tired of talking about it. It just seems so dumb that we fought about this tooth-and-nail from both sides, and the result is a disappointing piece of shit that sucks. This is a movie that people won’t be talking about in 2 years except when brought up when discussing its inevitable sequels. This is a movie that isn’t worth fighting over – it’s a giant commercial made by a massive megacorporation that used the very subject of its derision – being a feminist remake of a popular ’80s franchise – and packaged it and sold it like a fucking Big Mac, which seems pretty un-feminist to me. All things said, this is a stupid, heartless, unfunny, long movie, and I wouldn’t even recommend it for a rental.
*Not-So-Fun Fact: Ernie Hudson was the only original cast member to audition for the cartoon series, but lost his own role to Arsenio Hall – thus making Ernie Hudson the Charlie Brown of Hollywood.