Ghostbusters (2016) Review

What in the sam-hill am I doing? There is no way to review Ghostbusters without eliciting the outright hatred of one group or another. It is the quintessential "damned if you do damned if you don't" type scenario. Now, if the film was an absolute train wreck I could write a negative review and be off the hook. Likewise, if the film was a masterpiece of comedy I could simply eat some humble pie and say I was wrong (my expectations for this film were not high, after all) and most reasonable readers would accept that.

Unfortunately the film is neither a train wreck nor a masterpiece. Heck, it's not even bad or good, hot or cold. It's a lukewarm, safe, inspired in some parts, uninspired in most other parts reboot. It does not come close to matching the original, but then again it manages to steer clear of completely besmirching the franchise.

So let's talk about what works in the film first. Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are absolutely brilliant as the new Ghostbusters. McCarthy plays the straight (wo)man of the group with a sort of sweet sincerity and enthusiasm that infuses the film with steam to keep chugging along, even with the film's uneven pacing. McKinnon does what McKinnon does best: being completely, delightfully off-kilter.

The fact that McKinnon looks identical to Egon from the Saturday morning cartoon is a nice touch too.

When I first saw the trailers I was worried that Leslie Jones would just be the street-wise stereotypical African-American woman, so I was pleasantly surprised to se that her character was actually incredibly knowledgable about the city, and was a vital member of the team.

Chris Hemsworth was funny at times, and I do think he has a great sense for comedic timing, but his character's stupidity reaches a distractingly high level a few times during the film, and each instance really took me out of the movie.  

Now, I know what you are thinking: He forgot Kristen Wiig! Well--to be honest--I did. She plays a surprisingly forgettable role in this film. And I don't think it can be chalked up solely to her characters being written badly--though, be fair to Wiig her character could have been better written, as with most others in the film--I honestly think Wiig just phoned in her part. McCarthy, McKinnon, and Jones ooze enthusiasm while Wiig comes across as a Debbie Downer. It's surprising and disappointing to say the least.

And the villain? He's been bullied, he's a genius and he works at a hotel. Oh yeah, he also reminds me of Sméagol. Um...That's literally all there is to know about the villain's character.

His plan is to break the barrier between our plain of existence and the "other side." This plan is set into motion when he summons a ghost to an old house in New York. This serves as the opening scene, and I must say it is incredibly well done. The whole scene feels like "Disney's Haunted Mansion" at Disneyland. That sort of creepy but with just a touch of fun. That opener, combined with the Ghostbusters examination of the house get the film off to a great start.

Sadly, it's all downhill from there as far as the plot is concerned. I am convinced that PG-13 humor is much harder to get right than R-rated humor and Feig, the man who gave us Bridesmaids and The Heat really struggles to hit his stride with his humor being reigned in a bit. In fact, I have the sneaking suspicion that there was a lot left on the cutting-room floor with this film. Why else would the plot be so damn choppy? 

Don't get me wrong, the film still manages to tell a story that makes sense, it just feels like traveling down a dirt road in a jalopy while the plot lurches from one scene to the next. A blaring example of this occurs late in the film.

*Minor Spoiler Alert*

In the third act there is a scene in which the stage is set for a massive dance number involving hundreds of people. Then, right as it seems the number is about to begin, we cut away and the audience is left wondering why the director set the scene up in the first place if it wasn't going to pay off. Talk about the comedic equivalent of blue-balls. What's even more baffling is that the scene which I assume was cut from the main film plays out in the credits. I understand why the scene was cut--what's funny on paper is sometimes really hard to translate to film--but I don't understand why the setup for the scene was left in the movie.

*End of Minor Spoiler Alert*

What made the original Ghostbusters work so well is that it followed the recipe for making a good horror movie despite being a comedy. The tension builds slowly throughout the film before peaking at the end with the face off against Gozer. This reboot feels less like a horror movie in which the tension is slowly building to a crescendo, and more like an SNL episode going from comedy sketch to comedy sketch, with a running gag throughout. 

Feig directs his film like a mediocre comic book movie. There's a decent amount of chuckle-worthy humor, the action is much bigger and spectacular than anything found in the original Ghostbusters, but the awkward pacing that plagues the film's second and third acts, combined with a lack of character development throughout means the action doesn't feel exciting. It's a good reminder to filmmakers everywhere that, although we have the capability to produce effects that can create incredible set-pieces that push the boundaries of imagination, all of it is for naught if the plot has not been clear and the characters not properly focused on and developed.

The appearance of Oogie-Boogie in the third act was pretty surprising, I have to admit.

Ultimately, the film's mediocrity lies with Feig. As a co-writer of the script, a producer, and director, Feig had the most control over the film's tone, plot, and humor. He was given complete control over the project, he had an incredible cast who was (mostly) wildly enthusiastic, and he had a studio desperately wanting to make a franchise out of Ghostbusters who was more than willing to give him whatever he needed. With all of his advantages, it's hard to believe he produced such an underwhelming film.

In the end all of the controversy surrounding the film boils down to much ado about nothing. As a father, I want my daughter to see strong female leads in movies. I want her to learn that she can be what she wants, regardless of what those around her think she should be. I was nothing but excited about who they cast as the new team. Sadly, the controversy surrounding the film has turned an underwhelming film that would otherwise have gone down as a lackluster, forgettable though somewhat entertaining popcorn flick into a an ensign for a political stance.

This is an awesome shot, and I love what it embodies...even if it looks staged as all get out.

The film will not convince haters, nor will it do wonders to further the cause of ensuring women are given their (rightful and still lacking) respect in Hollywood. Worse still, the mudslinging from both sides of the controversy have only widened the gap between those resistant to change and those who are fighting most fiercely for change, thus setting progress back. The worst part is that Tom Rothman, the chairman of Sony actually encouraged the haters, saying that the film being turned into a political stance was good for the film's publicity. He was quoted as saying:

It’s the greatest thing that ever happened. Are you kidding me? We’re in the national debate, thank you. Can we please get some more haters to say stupid things?

Sony used a very important social issue as a means to advertise their lackluster film. While there is no denying the fact that the film's women are easily the strongest part of the film they are not able to truly shine thanks to clunky story-telling and shoddy directing. In fact it could be said that this filmed was ultimately salvaged by its leading-ladies' performances, which is heroic in its own way. This heroism is not readily apparent, however. And with Sony framing this film as an important piece in forwarding women's rights, its mediocrity has the potential to hurt the cause. It's irresponsible and unacceptable.

The Wrap Up

The Good:

+ Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones' Perfomances

+Strong opening scene

+Some legitimately funny parts

The Bad:

-Kristin Wiig is phoning it in

-Shoddy character and plot development

-Feig's sloppy direction

-Chris Hemsworth's character's stupidity becomes distracting

The Verdict:

5.5 out of 10

McCarthy, McKinnon and Jones give admirable, funny and spirited performances, but it is just not enough to overcome the failings of the film's Producer, Director and Co-Writer.




J. Leonard has been writing since 1994 when he wrote his first piece on what he wanted to be when he grew up in Mrs. Wagstaff's Kindergarten class. His writing has improved marginally since that time.