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Femmes Spectrale

Melissa McCarthy
Melissa McCarthy
Columbia Pictures
 116 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Paul Feig 
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy

Give the producers of the new Ghostbusters credit for one thing. Usually, when studio executives reboot a long dormant franchise, either through a remake or a sequel, the only real innovation is the vast improvement in special effects over the years since the original was made. Certainly, last month’s long-in-the-making sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, accomplished nothing other than giving Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch a nice paycheck they certainly wouldn’t have seen otherwise. But, at least the remake of Ghostbusters, by reversing the genders of its protagonists, held out the promise of some topical commentary about sexism in today’s society. But, alas, pretty much all it demonstrated was just how rare the comic talents of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis are.


The new movie can’t be faulted for its lead cast. Kirsten Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are two of the brightest comic talents around, male or female, and Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones actually outshine their more heralded co-stars. No, the problems begin with the usual culprit, the script. The script of the new Ghostbusters follows the broad outline of the original. Ghosts are running rampant in New York City, although most people don’t believe in them. Three scientists, Erin Gilbert (Wiig), Abby Yates (McCarthy), and Jillian Holtzman (McKinnon) develop some gizmo guns to catch the ghosts and form a paranormal investigation agency, called, you guessed it, “Ghostbusters.” Later, they add a fourth ghostbuster, transit worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). They also hire a somewhat dense, part-time actor, Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth), as their receptionist.


The ghostbusters manage to catch their first ghost during a concert at a crowded theater. This attracts the attention of the mayor of New York (Andy Garcia), who wants the team to keep up their work while, in public, he denies the existence of ghosts. The ghost sightings increase, and the team soon discover a pattern to them. When mapped out, the sightings converge on a downtown hotel where one of the bellboys, Rowan North (Neil Casey) is masterminding a scheme to open a portal to another dimension and bring forth an army of ghosts with himself as their leader. Naturally, they are too late to keep Rowan from opening the portal, but, in a lengthy, CGI laden final sequence, have to figure out a way to stop the various ghosts who are emerging by the dozens and close the portal.


The success of the original movie was due to one of those rare confluences of talent, including the three leads (Aykroyd and Ramis co-wrote the script as well), co-stars Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis, director Ivan Reitman, singer Ray Parker, Jr. (who wrote and performed the title song), and a highly innovative special effects team. The movie straddled the line between taking its subject matter seriously and out-and-out zaniness. Much of the humor resulted from Bill Murray’s virtually non-stop improvisations and the film’s then state-of-the-art special effects being used largely for laughs, most notably the signature Pillsbury doughboy apparition.


The most noticeable quality gap between the two film versions is in the supporting cast, where, instead of Weaver and Moranis, we get Neil Casey, the least imposing villain since the Hamburglar. Casey’s character is neither funny nor menacing, suggesting the type of 40-year-old who spends all his time in a basement obsessing about the next Star Wars movie. The original film didn’t need a supervillain, especially a lame supervillain like Rowan. The evil spirits in that movie were villain enough; here, the ghosts are pretty much just effects thrown in to showcase a 2016 level of CGI work.


And, make no mistake, Ghostbusters delivers a lot of CGI ghosts, in 3D no less, which manage to overwhelm the screen during the nearly mind numbing 30-minute finale. But for all the expense and effort, none of them compare to the sheer joy engendered by the library ghost in the original film or the Pillsbury doughboy. The reason is simple: what was innovative and clever in 1984 has been done to death by 2016.


As far as reversing the sexes of the new team of ghostbusters is concerned, I counted about three jokes to that effect and one ongoing routine in the entire movie. The routine has to do with the inordinate amount of ogling the women do at their boy toy receptionist, Kevin. Leading the way in that regard is Erin, who practically drools over him every time she sees him. The joke is funny about the first two times we see it; unfortunately, it occurs in different variations about 20 times during the movie.


The biggest difference between the two films is actually the ghostbusters themselves. Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis never took their roles seriously, they were just guys with funny names and funnier looking guns goofing around and spouting scientific gibberish. Wiig and McCarthy actually seem to be trying to play real characters here (there’s some bonding moments during the big action finale), but this isn’t a movie that lends itself to anything remotely serious. McKinnon and Jones are far funnier. Jones gets the best joke lines (other than Chris Hemsworth, who surprisingly gets the funniest lines in the entire movie).  McKinnon’s character is given little to do, so she essentially does the same thing Murray did, only without the benefit of dialogue. She mugs and goofs like crazy, even in scenes in which she is supposedly in the background, and it works.


A large part of the blame for Ghostbusters being so lackluster goes to director and co-writer Paul Feig, who worked with Wiig and McCarthy previously in Bridesmaids and went on to direct The Heat and Spy. He would seem to be a perfect choice for the project, but he is overwhelmed by the requirements of a CGI-laden film and seems incapable of editing the footage into a manageable form instead of turning project into yet another movie in which the Big Apple takes its digital lumps. And, even in the quieter scenes, Feig never quite gets the handle of what type of comedy he is making.


At least Feig manages a number of clever shoutouts to the original film, beginning with cameos featuring almost all the surviving cast members and a clever tribute to the late Harold Ramis. Other bits of business, including the hearse, the firehouse setting, the famous logo, and the theme song, also get their due. And, for those who stick around until after the closing credits, there’s a not-so-subtle hint that the almost obligatory sequel will hew a bit closer to the original storyline.


The new Ghostbusters isn’t a terrible movie; it’s merely a routine and thoroughly unnecessary one that only calls attention to how good the original was. It’s hard to completely ruin a film featuring four such talented lead actresses, but Feig manages to underutilize his two top billed stars, while making Chris Hemsworth funnier than most of what goes on when he’s not on screen. I don’t doubt for a minute that Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, and Jones can make as funny a movie as Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis; they just weren’t given the script and freedom to do so. This time around, Ghostbusters is a bit too much of a bust. 

In this scene, the Ghostbusters go out on their first mission, to de-haunt a theater. 

Read other reviews of Ghostbusters:


Ghostbusters (2016) on IMDb