Ghostbusters Answer The Call (***): Hard to shine that penny

ghostbusters-movie-2016-still

Ghostbusters – 2016

 

Director Paul Feig
Screenplay Katie Dippold and Feig
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Wiig, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong

When it comes to evaluating the new Ghostbusters, much is made about the gender of the Ghostbusters. I think this had less to do with the producers than the marketers, who were more than willing to feed the press a narrative that they thought could boost sales. It didn’t. Is sexism involved? To some extent, sure. There is an idiot in every crowd. The biggest problem is that the first trailer they released was misleading, confusing and just plain bad.

The marketers had not seen the film and thought it was a sequel. From the moment that mistake hit the air, this honest attempt to update one of the most beloved comedies was behind the 8 ball. The subsequent attempts to turn the occasional trolls into some organized movement against women just turned into a “scaring the straights” void of people who want a comedy. The result is merely those feeling obligated to like it or else or those who would never like it no matter how good it was.

To be honest, I am just glad that Dan Akroyd didn’t get to fulfill his vision to force us to watch him on film again. Yes, he along with all of the other Ghostbusters are cameoed in the new film, but his role comes across like a fart in a windstorm.

Once Harold Ramis passed away, my desire to see a new Ghostbusters expired. Murray was a hard sell, but even if he came back as a ghost as rumored, Ramis was the glue that made the formula work.

So Akroyd fades and the idea of a new crew of men fades with him. Next we get girl power. Whatever. It just needs to be funny, and with limited access by the ghost of Akroyd’s faded career. Having stayed away from SNL since Will Ferrell left, I had no opinion of Jones or McKinnon. McCarthy is a talent whose skill for picking material put her in the John Candy zone, for better and mostly worse. Wiig is a rallying cry for many women, kind of like Tina Fey. I don’t get much a vibe from her outside her turn in the Drew Barrymore film Whip It.

In all, there was little baggage carried by the reviewer heading into the film.  Alternatively, thanks to all of the crap marketing and media, there was little desire to watch. I had to get it out of the way, though. So here goes.

First, the bad. There isn’t much in the film that is truly bad. The special effects barfxtraveganza in the last 1/2 hour is the worst, lead by the “destructor” that is chosen. Most of the cleverness is weeded out by this point and really we’re waiting for it all to end.

The worst cameo in the film comes with Bill Murray’s miscasting. It’s hard to buy him as a NY Rex Reed type critic of the paranormal. This is nearly salvaged by his Arthur Denton-like final scene. It’s over quickly, at least.

Now the good. There really isn’t anything in the film that gels completely or even consistently. The bad guy (Casey) is a delightfully creepy choice. His performance is muted by a decision to go for a voice over with awful effects in the last 1/3 of the film.

The best decision of the film is in the filling of roles. Instead of direct replacements for Spengler, Venkman, Stantz, Zeddemore, Melnitz, Barrett and Tully, we have all new personalities. Sometimes they are distinct and sometimes they run over one another. Yates (McCarthy) and Gilbert (Wiig) have lines that could be interchanged, as do Holtzmann (McKinnon) and Beckman (Hemsworth). Only Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan stands out as an entirely distinct character. Each of the players have some memorable lines, but they all have mostly forgettable dialogue and interactions. The script is adequate, but undercooked.

That the film fails to be better than average is a result of having Feig and Dippold guiding the story along. Both have done great work (Parks and Rec., The Office) when the story can develop over several episodes, but in a movie with multiple characters and cameos thrust to the fore, there is less time to make sense of their awkward mannerisms. Several things hang waiting for a punchline that may be too subtle for a Friday night at the movies.

The cameos range from an inexplicable bust of Ramis at Columbia University, to Murray’s NY Socialite critic, Akroyd’s dumbass cabdriver and Hudson’s business owner. The best is saved for last, though.

The main problem with Ghostbusters: Answer the Call has nothing to do with gender politics. It’s that after all the outside noise, this film is just another mess of average. Wiig is so toned down, she’s almost non-existent. McCarthy is fun most of the time. McKinnon has some great lines and more that are just ridiculous.

Hemsworth is almost identically frustrating. They make him so incredibly dense as to be unbelievable. He walks the line between brilliant (the dance) and absurd (the acid) like a drunk at a wedding. They wanted Moranis with pects, but they got something less.

Jones is really the most consistent thing about the film. Her Patty Tolan is more fleshed out than her obvious predecessor, Zeddemore. She is not a genius, but she’s in no way limited. She has gifts and contributes mightily to the gelling of the story and the team. Her presence is easily worth one star on its own.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call is similar to every other reboot since the original Magnificent Seven. Get new actors out there, a few new effects and let the camera roll. It’s not women’s lib, it’s a Hollywood tradition.

(*** out of *****)

 

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