Ghostbusters (2016) [dir. Paul Feig]

Posted: July 20, 2016 in Uncategorized

The new “Ghostbusters” reboot is a disrespectful, unfunny, poorly written abomination that hasn’t the slightest idea why the original two “Ghostbusters” films worked so well that they are loved to this day. Within the first 15 minutes of the film we are subjected to a bad unfunny fart joke, which is immediately turned into a queef joke. Later in the film, a character complains that she got slime “in every crack”. By the end of the film, all four Ghostbusters are shooting the film’s main villain in the groin, despite the fact that he’s taken the form of the Ghostbusters’s logo and has no genitalia. While that certainly makes for an interesting visual metaphor for what this film has done to the franchise, I can’t help but feel viscerally angry with the Adam Sandler-ization of “Ghostbusters”.

While it’s certainly true that the original “Ghostbusters” films had their share of lowbrow or even stupid humor (Gatekeeper and Keymaster, pretty much any scene with Rick Moranis’s character) that wasn’t their main source of humor. What the first film did so well is that it managed to blend top-of-the-line special effects for the time (matte paintings, stop motion animation, etc) with comedy and not have the comedy fall flat or be overshadowed by the effects, like it tended to be in any film that tried to blend early SNL or Second City-type humor with effects before (“1941” is a big example, and a small number of detractors might say the same about action sequences and “The Blues Brothers”).  It also used comedy in just the right manner. In the Ghostbusters films, most of the plot and characters are actually played seriously. It is the Ghostbusters themselves, and a few supporting characters, who are jokey.  That is why some sequences can still play as decent, PG-level scares despite the preponderance of comedy surrounding those sequences. When Dana (Sigourney Weaver) opens the fridge to see a hellbeast with glowing eyes, it plays seriously. When Janosz (Peter MacNicol) kidnaps Dana’s child from a high ledge in “Ghostbusters 2”, it’s also a scary sequence that works well. Venkman (Bill Murray) may pretty much be a sleazy Chandler from “Friends” that’s constantly quipping, and there are plenty of visual silliness like Slimer munching down hotdogs, but watching both films again, as I did last week, I was surprised by how much of both films is not played for laughs, which makes the humor all the funnier because it’s approaching the plot at a right angle, skewing things into hilarity even as you remain invested in a supernatural storyline.

The new “Ghostbusters” understands none of that. It’s all jokey, hammy, crude, and slapstick.  The tone is so fundamentally off from what Ghostbusters is supposed to be, that I found myself sitting in the theater with my anger mounting because the filmmakers just didn’t get it. All they saw were four comedians shooting special effects at other special effects, and thought that was what Ghostbusters was and what would make fans happy. I get it, mixing comedy and supernatural stuff can be hard. “Gremlins” did it well, but “Krampus” did not. Films like “Gremlins 2” and “Evil Dead 2” went full comedy and survived, but the new “Ghostbusters” fails because , quite frankly, the comedy is not in the least bit actually funnier. Hell, the really awful “Pixels” had more laughs than this film does. I watched this film in a theater with about 15 other people. I laughed once (there’s a funny moment where a real estate agent tells them the monthly rent on the firehouse, and the response made me chuckle) and the rest of the audience sat in polite silence for the film to be over. I get that humor can be relative, and what you may find unfunny, I may find hilarious, and vice versa. Mainly, I found the humor in this new “Ghostbusters” to be obvious and annoying. There’s also not a single quotable line in this whole damn movie, which is a shame since the original two films are rich which great quotes.

The plot begins with Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig). She’s a professor at Columbia University that is up for tenure. Gilbert is the first of many one-dimensional characters we will meet. She is the prim and proper, straight-laced and uptight woman. That is all we are given about her, and aside from being inexplicably horny for Chris Helmsworth’s moronic receptionist character later, and being allowed to be the film’s hero, she is given no further material to broaden out or make us care about her other than as a common clichéd comedic trope. Her tenure is threatened when an old book she wrote about the paranormal is re-released. The source is the co-author, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who seems to have been studying the paranormal fulltime since whenever she and Gilbert had a falling out. Yates is pretty much a bland combination of the only two types of characters McCarthy is allowed by Hollywood to play: angry force to be reckoned with (“Bridesmaids”, “The Heat”, “The Boss”, etc) and the insecure girl with talent (“Spy”). Quite frankly, I’m getting bored seeing her only play these two characters, and forcing them into one character is not the answer. Yates happens to have been working with a new partner, and she’s a doozy. This is Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and this character is what happens when you take the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, have her take center stage instead of just being the love interest for a male protagonist, and up the craziness by about 100%. She’s not a character so much as she’s a collection of quirks and oddball eccentricities pretending to be a human being. She also seems to be the only Ghostbuster capable of making any of their gadgets, meaning she is the smartest and only real useful member of the team. Despite this, she also lip synchs songs while accidentally lighting stuff on fire with a blowtorch for no reason. To McKinnon’s credit, she goes all out and does her best to flesh out this fleshless collection of tics, wannabe one-liners, and mental ward traits, but the script fails her. I can imagine an alternate film where a similar character, sort of an amalgam of the original films’ Venkman and Egon (the late Harold Ramis), would steal the film. McKinnon does steal this film, but only because she’s the one thing in this movie that feels inspired, even if she ultimately fails.

After it becomes clear that ghosts are becoming an ever-present phenomenon, the three girls end up with Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). Patty is subway worker who stumbles upon a ghost after following a creepy guy, Rowan (Neil Casey, who feels like the poor man’s Patton Oswalt all through the film) onto subway tracks. Patty is an odd mix of racial stereotype (sassy urban character who is street smart and calls out other characters for not being common sense) and character who supplies the most useful information to the other characters. It’s clear that the screenwriters wanted her to be a smart character on par with the other three main characters, who are physicists and engineers, but then why have her do Tyler Perry-esque antics like literally slap a ghost out of someone while yelling “THE POWER OF PATTY COMPELLS YOU!” It’s the like writers wanted to write a non-stereotypical black character, but they simply did not know how. As such, watching her character in the film is kind of an uneasy experience. Unlike the other three leads, I am not familiar with any of Jones’s work, so I don’t know how much of the character is her fault and how much is the writers’ fault, but considering how often Jones doesn’t go over the top in the film, I’m going to blame the screenplay. My only issue with Jones’s performance is in a scene involving a ghost dragon (I’ll get to that) perching on her shoulders. When Jones attempts to convey being scared, it comes across as the dragon possessing her. That issue is at least 50% her and 50% the dialogue in that scene.

It turns out that Rowan is a weird little man who has been bullied all his life, and wants to take revenge on the world by creating devices that allow ghosts to break through a different dimension into ours, and thus flood our world with malevolent ghosts and cause the apocalypse. The plan is interesting, but Rowan is such an uninteresting, one-dimensional villain that it undercuts the whole thing. Supposedly, an earlier idea for this villain was to have him be a Unabomber-type domestic terrorist, which would have been much better than making him some middle-aged Columbine-shooter-type guy. While the original “Ghostbusters” didn’t have a villain so much as it had a mystery (the villain ends up being an evil god that takes the form of an 80s music video dancer, and then a marshmallow man) and the second “Ghostbusters” had an evil despot back from the dead, the monsters (part one) or the dialogue and vessel from which the villain emerged (a painting) made them cool (part two).  Rowan is nothing more than a cliché of a basement dwelling internet loser. He’s not original or interesting or compelling. He’s as bland a villain as they come. Later in the film, after possessing Helmsworth’s Kevin, he out of nowhere decides to throw gendered insults at the Ghostbusters for no reason. Apparently they decided to make him a sexist instead of the just the general misanthrope the film made him for most of the film’s running time.

If I had to pick about the thing most annoying about this film, I’d have to say is that it suffers from “Phantom Menace” syndrome, and by that I mean it takes the time to show the origins of and explanations for things I don’t care the know the origins or explanations of. Except, instead of a prequel no one asked for, this is a reboot no one wanted.  How did they come up with the Ghostbusters logo? Oh, a random tagger spraypainted a ghost, and then put the “no” circle through it to piss off Patty. How did the Ghostbusters come up with their equipment? It’s tested, doesn’t work, and then Holtzmann fixes it. Why do they wear jumpsuits? To avoid slime. Aside from the fact that I could have inferred much of this in the original films without lame scenes of the equipment being tested and not working correctly, the original films understood that audience members don’t care where this stuff came from, we just want to see it in action.  In the original film we’re told through dialogue that the proton packs haven’t been tested. Then they go after Slimer in the hotel, we see the stuff in action, and hilarity ensues. Show don’t tell. The new “Ghostbusters” spends way too many scenes telling us things we don’t give a shit about (and that logo original is lame as hell).  Of course, later in the film Holtzmann has created a bunch of new gadgets with no notice and likely no time and we don’t need testing scenes or even an explanation about what lead to their creation. At least when they broke out the slime blowers in “Ghostbusters 2”, it was explained by the plot of the film. Why do these Ghostbusters need proton handguns and proton grenades and a…ghostchipper?

I’ve mentioned Helmsworth’s Kevin character twice now, but I haven’t gone into detail. He’s annoyance personified, but the film seems to think he’s funny. I’ve seen many reviews calling him the highlight of the film. Sorry, I cringed every time he was on screen. He forgets that he hates coffee, he has a dog named Mike Hat. Why the hell is any of this supposed to be funny? He seems to only be in the movie so that Rowan can possess him later. Oh right, one of the only other good things in this film is the concept of a villain killing himself to become a ghost and be a more formidable opponent. Good concept, wasted in this film.  We also have Bill Murray in a role that’s just larger than a cameo as Martin Heiss, a debunker of paranormal stuff. Okay, considering that the film everyone wanted was a “Ghostbusters 3” and not some horrible reboot, and that “Ghostbusters 3” was held up in part by Murray not wanting to commit to another sequel (as well as studio indifference on Sony’s part), but Murray was willing to be in this piece of shit makes me really angry. If you can be in this horrible reboot, and you can be the voice of Garfield in two kid’s movies, why couldn’t you have at least filmed one scene in a “Ghostbusters 3”?  Some of the other original cast members have cameos. There’s an inexplicable bust of Harold Ramis in a hallway in Columbia in the early part of the film. It makes no sense if Egon doesn’t exist in this reboot universe. Dan Akroyd is a taxi driver, Annie Potts is a hotel desk clerk, and Sigourney Weaver is Holtzmann’s mentor. Oh, and Ernie Hudson shows up as Patty’s uncle, meaning Hudson, with this and “God’s Not Dead 2”, has now managed to be in two of 2016’s worst films.

There’s also stuff that just doesn’t make sense within the rules this film sets out. Like in the original films, we’re told that ghosts need to be trapped and contained. But then, later in the film, we see ghosts being “killed” (I guess) with the new weapons. So do they or don’t they need to be trapped, or can they just be disintegrated?  Granted, the “Ghostbusters” video game, which is pretty much the 3rd film we’ll never get, allows you to kill some smaller ghosts but larger ghosts need to be trapped, but I chalk that up to video game playability and not something meant to become canon. And if it’s changing, then why isn’t that explained instead of, you know, how they got their friggin’ logo?  Also, in general ghosts are the spirits of dead humans. So why do we have a dragon ghost? The original films had some ghosts that weren’t exactly humanoid (Slimer) but it was always clear they were originally humans and were warped into their new form in some way (Slimer likes to eat, so was likely a very gluttonous human). So why a green dragon ghost? Unlike the original films, this reboot has no mention of demons or demi-gods to explain non-humanoid ghosts. Supposedly, that earlier concept with the Unabomber villain also opened the door to…wait for it…ALIEN GHOSTS. While this could lead to the Ghostbusters-Men in Black crossover no one wants to see, this seems to be stretching the Ghostbusters universe into realms no one wants. Oh, and then later we get ghost parade balloons…which aren’t so ghosty that they can’t be popped with a pocket knife. What? That’s some R.L. Stine-level bullshit right there. I don’t expect a movie about people fighting ghosts to be realistic, but I expect it to have its own set of rules and follow them.

The finale scene, which has been praised for letting girls kick ass, sucks. For one, it takes place in the midst of a bunch of ugly digital smoke, probably so that the special effects artists don’t have to spend time and money animating the backgrounds. Secondly, it shows us our main characters, who heretofore have been awkward and uncomfortable with their weaponry, suddenly skilled experts with equipment that now works exactly as it’s supposed to. How exactly did a bunch of awkward scientists and one subway worker become super skilled warriors in close-range weapons and hand-to-hand combat? The original Ghostbusters, despite being successful, never really got skilled beyond shooting beams and lassoing ghosts with some difficulty (ghostbusting always had more in common with lassoing or fishing than any type of combat). This film jumps from the Ghostbusters barely able to fight one ghost, to being skilled warriors with no explanation or warning, and the film expects the audience to go with it because strong women are cool, and it’s the film’s allegedly exciting finale. You couldn’t even give us a montage of them getting better before this? We just get one training session where one new device goes reasonably well.

Plus, the special effects in this film are garishly ugly. Admittedly, I tend to have an issue with most CGI these days, and would prefer we went back to a time when we used practical effects, like in the original films, with some minor CGI augmentation to smooth it out and make them look a bit better. Still, the ghosts and other effects in this new film are neon monstrosities lacking originality or captivating design. There are so many memorable ghosts or creatures from the original films: the hellbeasts, Stay Puft, a fur coat come to live, a decaying taxi driver, Slimer, the Scoleri Brothers, and more. This film gives us a giant, ugly Ghostbusters logo remiscent of Oogie Boogie from “Nightmare Before Christmas”, Slimer’s wife, some ghosts on stilts dressed like Uncle Sam, and an inexplicable dragon. Oh, and an evil woman from the 1800s of no visual interest. They glow obnoxiously and have whispy tendrils of nothingness and are forgettable as anything other than bad animation. I’ll at least give credit to the 3d. The film in 3d is presenting with black bars at the top and bottom, and 3d effects extend beyond the frame and into the bars. This isn’t the only 3d film to do that trick, but it’s a nice one.

There is so much to hate about this movie. There’s an unfunny running gag about a Chinese restaurant only delivering one wonton when a character orders wontons. Guess which character, because it’s the most obvious one to like Chinese food. There’s a scene of Adam Sandler-level stupidity and unfunny silliness when the head of the crappy college Yates works for fires them and keeps finding different, juvenile ways to slip them off. There’s the clichéd line of “that’s gonna leave a mark” after Patty slaps a ghost (because that’s how you get rid of them, it’s that easy) out of Yates. There’s a gag where Yates throws away Kevin’s sandwich off screen and someone off screen throws it back to him. What? There’s a scene where Rowan is able to possess a small crowd of people and makes them stand still and pose for no reason. Now, we know from the closing credits that this is because there’s a scene where he makes them dance that was cut out but…WHY WOULD ROWAN MAKE THEM DANCE AT ALL? Why does Rowan ask the Ghostbusters to have him choose a form? How is he able to even change form? Why is that a power he has? This is a callback to the original film, but it fails because there is no explanation for it here. This film is just a collection of jokes and gags that don’t work, fan service that fails, explanations that we either don’t need, don’t care for, or outright suck, and characters who are not developed beyond the one line you’d see on a casting call sheet. To top it all off, the films doesn’t even have the tone of a “Ghostbusters” film. It has the tone of an Adam Sandler film, or maybe even the tone of a “Ghostbusters” parody movie. Based on the freefall in quality from source material to this new film, this has got to be one of the worst remakes/reboots of all time.

The blame for this mess largely falls on the two screenwriters, one of whom is also the director. They are Katie Dippold and Paul Feig. Dippold’s only credits prior to this are some episodes of the TV show “Parks and Recreation”, which did not have a tone or sense of humor befitting “Ghostbusters”, and some work on a hidden camera TV show and some late seasons of MadTV (the unfunny ones). Feig, meanwhile, has done good work in the past. He created the great dramedy “Freaks and Geeks”, showing he used to know how to meld drama and comedy. He also wrote a funny memoir of his teen years called “Superstud”. Lately, he is known for writing and directing female-centric broad comedies like “Bridesmaids”, “The Heat”, and “Spy”, all films I have enjoyed to various degrees, but none of them hilarious. He’s also directed absolute swill like “I am David” (his only dramatic film) and “Unaccompanied Minors”. There was nothing in his filmography to suggest he had the skill to pull off “Ghostbusters”. Compare this to Ivan Reitman, director of the original two films, who cut his teeth working on horror films like Cronenberg’s “Shivers” and horror comedies like “Cannibal Girls” before doing full-on comedies like “Meatballs” and “Stripes”. Feig basically directs this “Ghostbusters” as if he’s doing a modern day sitcom pilot, with a tone to match. He was not the right choice to direct, much less to write, and we all are left to suffer because of that.

The new “Ghostbusters” is disrespectful for not understanding why the original films (and to a lesser extent the cartoon series) have had such a lasting impact on their fans so many years later. It tries to shoehorn a different type of humor into the mold of the original, but the humor itself just isn’t funny. It makes bad narrative choices, doesn’t deliver us with fully fledged out characters (while Winston from the original films suffers this same fate, largely due to Eddie Murphy dropping out of the original film, at least he wasn’t a stereotype or a clichéd trope) has ugly special effects, doesn’t conform to it’s own system of rules and logic, gives us a lame and forgettable villain, and decides to answer questions no one asked or cared about. I hated this movie with a passion. D.

P.S. : In the opening of the film, the title is “Ghostbusters”. At the end credits, the title is “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call”. Is this a mistake? Did the credits company mistakenly use the same size and type font for a tagline so that it looks like part of the title? Why would a tagline be included in the closing credits at all?

 

 

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