It’s not as bad as some (mostly male) critics have predicted. But it’s not as good as it might have been. By including scenes, themes, the logo, settings, even spirits from the original Ghostbusters, the new Ghostbusters misses an opportunity to present something fresh and innovative and even – dare we say – go on to become a cult hit on its own merits. While the all female cast has been touted, what does it say that perhaps the best performance in the film is by a guy? Chris Hemsworth seems to be having the time of his life playing the ditsy receptionist, Kevin, hired not for his skills but for his hunky eye candy appeal.
That’s not to say that this film isn’t fun and enjoyable. (Particularly this summer when so many hyped sequels have fallen flat.) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones have chemistry and superb comic timing. Yet these talented actresses are hamstrung by a script that often falls flat and doesn’t allow them to truly bring their characters alive. McKinnon, who never lets what’s on the page hold her back, manages to stand out as the quirky, eccentric scientist Jillian Holtzmann. McCarthy and Wiig are fine, but at times seem to be walking through their parts. As for Jones, casting her as a blue-collar worker, is probably not what Jada Pinkett Smith had in mind when she was arguing for more high profile roles for black actors. Jones is terrific as a bad ass MTA worker, but why couldn’t she have been a bad ass scientist?
McCarthy and Wiig play Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert, former colleagues who once wrote a book on the paranormal. Now that Gilbert is up for tenure at Columbia University, she goes to Yates’ lab, asking her to stop selling the book on Amazon, fearing it will damage her reputation as a serious scientist. When Yates and Holtzmann receive a call to investigate the paranormal activity at a Manhattan mansion, Gilbert can’t resist going along. After the ghost makes an appearance, Gilbert’s fate is sealed. The event makes it onto the internet, she’s fired from Columbia and agrees to join Yates and Holtzmann’s lab. Jones’ character, Patty Tolan, comes on board after witnessing ghostly activity on the subway tracks.
What the film lacks is a compelling plot and a real villain. The bad guy here is Rowan North (Neil Casey), a hotel worker who is somehow collecting bad spirits to create chaos with a big attack. (How and why he’s doing this is never fully explained.) Rowan comes off as a sad sack who is disgruntled but never appears very threatening. He does manage, however, to unleash a firestorm which manifests itself on the screen with an unending barrage of ghosts. There’s a lot of activity, but never a center for the attack. It just appears as computer imaging run amok. Once Rowan disappears, there’s no real villain to take his place. (One longs for the more creative plot in the original which at least made it clear who and what Bill Murray and company were fighting.)
Speaking of Murray, he makes the obligatory cameo as a professor out to discredit this new all-woman team. Dan Ackroyd turns up as a cab driver who refuses to take Wiig’s Gilbert to Chinatown and gets to deliver the expected line: “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” Ernie Hudson appears as Tolan’s uncle whose hearse the team has been using. The fourth member of the original crew, Harold Ramis, died last year. (Stay for the credits to catch Sigourney Weaver.)
While all these star turns are fun to watch (Annie Potts, the original receptionist, is seen here as a hotel clerk), they keep reminding us that this Ghostbusters is not that Ghostbusters. Director Paul Feig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Katie Dippold, seems to be trying too hard to appease those critics who trashed this reboot based solely on the all-female cast. Feig worked with McCarthy and Wiig on Bridesmaids while Dippold delivered a terrific script for The Heat’s female pair of McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. Both films were critical and box office winners. They missed an opportunity to create another winner here.
Ghostbusters opens nationwide July 15, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures.