Movie Review: Ghostbusters

A remake with the main roles filled by women is a pale ghost of the original version

Directed by Paul Feig
With Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams, Chris Hemsworth

Don't mess with the classics. Hollywood has been caught up in a cycle of disappointing and ill-advised remakes, reboots and sequels. The latest title to get recycled is Ghostbusters. The 1984 classic comedy has been re-envisioned with a new gimmick — all four of the supernatural apparition chasers are women.

It was, one supposes, meant as a feminist message but it would have been more empowering if there was an actual script with jokes instead of just some elaborate sets and surprisingly unoriginal special effects.

Huge sections of the film are supposed to be funny because of a lot of pseudo-scientific double talk about types of apparitions. But it just reminds fans of the original how much better it was the first time.

It is like sitting through a high school drama club production of Cats after having seen the play on Broadway.

What sinks the film is the complete lack of chemistry among the four lead actresses. Kate McKinnon as Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, the team member who makes the gadgets, stands out as the only one with any personality at all. Kristen Wiig as Dr. Erin Gilbert also tries to bring some life to her role as respectable professor who suddenly finds herself chasing ghosts instead of teaching. Her role though, one of the two biggest, never gives her enough to work with.

Unfortunately the other half of the quartet of ghostbusters — Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones — basically just show up to fill space. The don't fully get behind their roles, and as a result their dialogue is poorly timed and unconvincing. Jones in particular grows tiresome very quickly. She is the only non-scientist of the group, and that leaves her out of the loop as well.

And the script takes forever to get moving. People already know the four top-billed stars will form a ghost hunting company. But the audience has to follow step by step as each one is forced into it.

Finally a brief snippet of the catchy theme song by Ray Parker Jr. can be heard, signaling that the film is about to get going — but it is a false alarm.

Time and time again, scenes in the new version just serve to show how much better the original was. When the Ghostbusters' customized vehicle pulls up, it is just a reminder of how unfunny everything leading up to it has been.

Even the secondary roles are letdowns. In the original, the ghost activity centered on a character played by Sigourney Weaver, a fine and versatile actress. The new version has a lackluster performance by Neil Casey as a janitor named Rowan North, who rambles on incoherently about some conspiracy theory. Much of the dialogue about him states he is a weirdo nobody likes. But he is too plain vanilla to like or dislike. And a good villain is they key to any film.

One part of the film that almost works is Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters' secretary, Kevin Beckman. In a bit of role reversal, he is hired for his looks as the “dumb blond” who can't even answer the phone. But the script belabors the joke too much. Hemsworth is capable of much better than what this film allows him to do.

Once the slowpoke script finally gets all the pieces in order, the special effects take over and they are not much better that the ones from 30 years ago, which hurts the film even more. They are neither scary nor funny. But there are a lot of them.

Most of the original cast turns up in brief cameos, with Bill Murray having the largest bit. Harold Ramis, who died in 2014, can be seen briefly as a sculpture. If the film had been funny, the cameos would have been a welcome sign of the passing of the torch. But they again just serve as sad reminders of how funny these actors had once been.

A few funny bits occur in the closing credits, as if they for some reason saved the jokes that had for the end, like a one-hit band that plays their only good song in the encore. And if you stay all the way through the credits there is a brief snippet that sets up a sequel.

There is a lack of good roles for talented actresses, and this has been a problem for a very long time. The reboot of Ghostbusters, though, is a really missed opportunity to address the problem. Putting this same cast into something original that wouldn't have suffered in comparison would have been a better idea.

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