Ghostbusters (2016)

This new Ghostbusters could have easily been a sham. I can almost picture the studio heads seated around their big conference table, puffing swirls of smoke through filtered light. I know — this is the 21st Century, yes? I’ve got this killer idea. Let’s do a remake of Ghostbusters! Wait, wait, wait. Hear me out. Instead of three white men and one black man, I’m proposing three white women and one black woman. Their receptionist won’t be a ditzy lass; he’ll be a ditzy hunk. I already have the perfect Australian in mind. See? It’s completely different, apart from the ghosts… and the protopacks… and the slime… and the maniacal entity that wants to take over the world… Waddya think?

I think stupid studio decisions can turn to gold, given the correct resources and appropriate talent. Just look at what Scorsese did with Infernal Affairs (2002). This new-millennium Ghostbusters has enough personality and guile to step away from its predecessor’s shadow and almost run away a glistening success. Almost. It gets the horror elements right, and some of the action. The movie has a buzz of ecstatic energy about it, which it must. And its cast, known for stand-up routines and SNL skits (like the old guys), is the last vital cog in the whole machine, the one that gets everything chugging and steaming along. But not all the jokes land. There are awkward cutaways. The villain is a little iffy. It all reeks slightly of redundancy. Oh, the production is professional and everyone is invested all right, but what is not broken need not be fixed.

As it must, Ghostbusters begins with a haunting, in a very effective scene involving an old mansion, a tour, and a latched door that leads to our favourite horror standard — the basement in which someone died gruesomely centuries earlier. We meet Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a famed physicist on the verge of tenure, and her childhood friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy), who has an unhealthy obsession with Chinese wantons.

They are joined at the haunted mansion by Abby’s lab partner Jillian (Kate McKinnon), who takes over the Harold Ramis role as the quirky inventor who can’t get an inch in sideways. These women are plucky, I tell you, and they’re smart. They’re not prone to illogical, stupid decisions because they bring a kind of authenticity to their hyperrealistic dispositions. Abby is loud and uncouth, but listen to the way she speaks; her mind functions on the same level as her craft. Erin is less concerned with appearances, but she can swing supernatural mumbo-jumbo with the best of them. Jillian lives in her own little world; her technical prowess speaks for itself. The fourth member, Patty (a subway control officer played by Leslie Jones), knows nothing about ghosts, but she’s seen one and now she’s part of the team. What I enjoyed most about this new version of Ghostbusters is the way these four central ladies grab the plot, which is essentially the same as the original, and throttle it into submission by cleverly listening to their personalities. They take the four original roles and shapeshift them into four new ones.

Unfortunately their job seems lifted from the first movie. They’re not offered a path new enough to support their characters. They come together over a haunting. They conclude they’re not crazy. They leave their jobs to pursue ghost-hunting full-time. They look for real estate. They get matching jumpsuits made. The tech master gives them weapons. They hire a hearse and paint it white. And so on. It’s all there, right down to the evil spirit who wants to open a portal to the real world so that he can unleash a horde of nasty wraiths.

But to what end? Why do megalomaniacal villains always resort to portals and invasions? So that the movie can end with a special effects extravaganza, that’s why. But I don’t buy it. Women of such intellect and charm shouldn’t have to deal with an army of the undead. Their skill is in their minds, not their bodies. They simply use their bodies to materialise their theories, as one of them so adequately states. Alas, all hell breaks loose, the city is in shambles, and the Busters have to adopt a superhero-like mantle if they want to stay afloat. I had a good enough time with this movie, but not good enough, I fear.

Note: The film is rated PG, but there are a handful of ill-placed jokes about cracks and butts, and many of the horror scenes are genuinely spooky. One of the kids at my screening cried. Also, the internet needs to stop crying over spilled milk. I hate the state Hollywood is in as much as the next guy, but unless you plan on staging a coup, suck it up and move on.

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