Ghostbusters 2016

I liked the original Ghostbusters.  It was funny, generally well written and well-paced.  I think it is a rare example of an actually funny modern American comedy.  There are great lines in it that I still quote today.  But for some reason it never obtained the status of sacred text for me that it has for other geeks.  And when I saw it again last year, I was bothered by the Libertarian anti-regulation themes in it, and I’m sorry but the older I get the more I dislike Venkman’s Junior High School taunts.

Consequently, I was not offended by rebooting it with female characters.  There are some very funny women out there and they rarely get a chance to shine.  Putting them in a high profile tent pole production like this is an extraordinary opportunity to possibly change attitudes about casting them in comedies.  Paul Feig is the perfect pick as director.  He did Bridesmaids, which also had Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy in it, and several other female centered comedies.  He doesn’t quite hit this one out of the park but it is a solid triple.

First of all is the casting.  I knew that Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy were talented comic actors but I didn’t know about Kate McKinnon, since I don’t watch SNL.  She absolutely steals the show with her off-the-wall gonzo antics and impenetrable weirdness.  Her performance made me think of John Belushi in Animal House, a totally loose cannon.  If nothing else this performance should make her a star.

Leslie Jones is funny as Patty, although the character borders on stereotype.  They do give her a vital role in the plot.  I just wish she’d had a little moment to show that she was more than a sassy black woman.

It was a smart decision to not try and recreate the chemistry of the original cast.  You can’t point to any one of these woman and say, “Okay, she’s supposed to Venkman and she’s Egon.”  The filmmakers let them develop their own chemistry and they do a good job.  You feel the connection between Wiig’s Erin Gilbert and McCarthy’s Abby Yates, which goes back to high school where they were two nerdy girls who loved science and the supernatural.  And they’re not really scared by the ghosts either.  Abby thinks they’re beautiful and wants to study them.  Erin has an unquenchable curiosity about them as well as a strong psychological need to prove to the world that they exist.  Their dialog also has a way of digressing into pop culture references like when they get into Patrick Swayze movies while talking to the police.  I love that kind of humor.

They bring in Chris Hemsworth as their incompetent but highly ornamental receptionist.  He has a role in the plot as well, but his main purpose is to extract revenge for every dumb blonde joke ever told.  Hemsworth demonstrates that he’s a pretty good comic actor.  We need to see more of that in the next Thor movie.

The effects are great of course.  They kept the look of the original but thirty years of technological improvements means that they look even better and are more seamlessly integrated into the live action.

There are a few things that keep Ghostbusters from perfection.  One is that the filmmakers are a little too reverent towards the original film.  There are a lot of cameos with the original cast, and while all of them are fun and welcome, they often mess with the film’s pace.

The film’s editing is also problematic.  There were a few cases where the transition between scenes was not clear.  It pulled me out of the story.

But Ghostbusters 2016 is generally an amusing summer diversion, just as the original was.  How does it fare in the inevitable comparison?  I’d say the original is probably a little ahead.  It has a clearer plot, and doesn’t have the pressure of living up to an earlier classic.

But the new one is well worth seeing.

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