Sunday, July 17, 2016

Obligatory Ghostbusters 2016 Review

Going to the the 2016 Ghostbusters on opening weekend was something of a point of pride for me after reading all of the "trollicious" comments about how terrible the new movie would be. After having written my thoughts about the bizarre anti-women sentiments of too many fanboys (disguised as "this remake will ruin my childhood" whining), I felt obligated to review the film one way or the other -- positive or negative -- as long as I could review it honestly.

In 2011, director Paul Feig struck gold with the comedy hit Bridesmaids. Since then, he's made three additional film starring Melissa McCarthy (Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters). These films, penned by Katie Dippold, Paul Feig, or a combination of both, all seem to draw from the same well. There's a pattern to the jokes in these films which mixes ribald comments with a seemingly faddish turn wherein characters riff a series of allegedly funny lines and, rather than using the best one, several of them are strung together in the final product.

That kind of "on the fly" humor can be effective but it has to be honed and used judiciously. At times, these jokes pile on to one another, making scenes increasingly funny. When not done well, however, scenes can feel clunky and each additional comment makes the scene clunkier.

Unfortunately, Ghostbusters 2016 is a very clunky movie.

The film re-teams Bridesmaids stars Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy while introducing "Saturday Night Live" alumn Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones to the mix. Wiig as Professor Erin Gilbert is our protagonist though she quickly becomes eclipsed by McCartney as Abby Yates and McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann. Gilbert and Yates bicker like the former friends they are while Holtzmann embodies some kind of living cartoon character -- appropriate since she seems styled after the Egon Spengler on the animated "The Real Ghostbusters". This presents a conundrum as Holtzmann becomes the most interesting person to look at on screen but she never gives us anything but an out-of-step lipsynching scene (where she's seemingly seducing Gilbert?) and several nonsequiters. She may be brilliant when it comes to making ghost-catching gadgets but she doesn't know DeBarge from Devo.

After the three women begin a business to investigate the paranormal, they hire Kevin (Chris Hemsworth). Dumb as a box of rocks, Kevin is a one-note character whose first note rings flat and only gets worse from there. The scene of him showing his graphic design skills might be one of the most excruciating bits of the film.

We eventually meet Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a mass transit employee who manages to make it past Kevin's incompetence and summons the Ghostbusters to the subway for their second supernatural encounter. Apparently, Patty is impressed by the team's incompetence and inexplicably joins them. This is one of many "this thing needs to happen so it's just going to happen" moments of the film.

There is an antagonist in Ghostbusters... of a sort. Rowan North, played by Neil Casey, has less depth and backstory than a "Criminal Minds" freak of the week. He's such a thumbnail sketch that I kept expecting that he was just a lowly henchman for some bigger baddie (like Andy Garcia's Mayor character or, even better, Cecily Strong as Jennifer Lynch, the Mayor's assistant). Alas, no. The film's villain remains unmotivated and as poorly drawn as the rest of the characters in the film.

It seems that the real bad guy of the film is Paul Feig who's given his team very little to work with. Additionally, the film suffers from being simply poorly made. The most glaring example of this comes in the scene after the team gets called into the Mayor's office and told that they have to stop their ghost-busting antics. This cuts to the team in an alley where Yates says that the Mayor is allowing them to continue to hunt ghosts!? The scene proceeds to exist with the sole purpose to demonstrate a few weapons that will be used in the final confrontation with the Oogie Boogie version of Rowan North. There's really no need for this scene as the audience has seen Holtzmann making quantum leaps in technology throughout the film. The film then cuts to what was the next natural scene after the Mayor's office scene where our heroes are downtrodden, not the elated characters we saw during the brief weapons try-out.

This same kind of editing and pacing issues mar much of the film. Of course, the film takes an extra beat whenever introducing a ham-handed cameo from the original Ghost Busters cast (the Sigourney Weaver bit just feels tacked on, because it is) but then one of the film's other cameos, Ozzy Osbourne, cuts away too quickly (after a terrible laugh line).

Other pacing problems present in the Ghostbusters only catching one ghost before the final confrontation, the inexplicable absence of Gilbert from the team after their strange-but-brief "victory" over Rowan North, and the gaping absence of the dance number Kevin-as-Rowan is setting up the police for (which we see somewhat in the credits).

I won't even go into how troubling Leslie Jones's role was handled in her "white people be crazy" stereotype into which her character was cast. Again, better writing and judicious editing could have helped her character just as it could have helped all of the other paper-thin characters in this overblown film wherein, at the end of the day, it didn't matter what gender the actors are but how good the script and direction need to be.

Ghostbusters 2016 is not the worst movie I've seen. It's not necessarily a terrible movie. It feels like there's a competent film hidden beneath the incompetence of the product that came to theaters. I don't think that a fan edit will help the movie once it comes out on home video as that can pare back some of the clumsiness of the current film but it can't do anything to help build the characters into something more than the synopsis descriptions they're limited to on screen.

And, by the way, I don't think it's going to ruin your childhood.