US (2016) Dir. Paul Feig
One of the most controversial films of 2016, this reboot/remake/whatever of the classic 80’s comedy had the film community up in arms before it was even released, with the trailer getting the most number of dislikes on YouTube. Why? Because it had woman and not men replacing the iconic roles of the original.
The women in question are university professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), physicist Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and former tube station worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). They come together when Erin is fired from her university after they find she once wrote a book with Abby supporting the existence of ghost.
With Abby and Holtzmann also fired from their jobs over their ghostly obsessions, the trio decide to form their own paranormal investigation group, with male bimbo Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their receptionist. Patty is one of their earliest clients when she encounters a ghost in the subway and decides to join them, but the group struggle to gain credibility with the public and the media.
I must confess that upon finally viewing this film I had hoped I would find that the misogynistic naysayers would be forced to eat a huge slice of humble pie and choke on their ignorance. Unfortunately, this film just didn’t click with me, resulting in not a single laugh or even the remotest interest in the exploits of this bold new incarnation of the Ghostbusting team.
Whilst I was aware that it starred two of the leads from the ghastly Bridesmaids (a film I’m in the minority of loathing) – Wiig and McCarthy – I didn’t realise that Paul Feig, director of the aforementioned travesty, was helming this film too. Perhaps then there is something in the alchemy formed by this combination working in concert that disagrees with me as this the second time I’ve failed to be amused or impressed by their work.
Depending on your sense of humour and tolerance for the American comedy with its quick fire quips and affected mannerisms, it is clear to see where the problem lies with this film and it is not that the cast is female. Simply put, it tries too hard. It is aware of the legacy it is stepping into and in attempting to do it justice as well as appeasing the faithful fans, it lays it on a bit too thick in addressing this and the feminine makeover.
It is debatable that assigning the girls whacky personalities to help counter the male cynics is part of why this film doesn’t quite click with some audience, because what made the original work so well was the laconic, self-awareness of the men. Obviously, this film had to be different but going too far the other way makes the humour come across as forced and this very hit and miss – sadly mostly miss for this writer.
Aside from the obvious role reversal with the eye candy male receptionist who is too stupid to sit on a toilet the right way, the script is rife with instances of the Ghostbusters not being taken seriously due to their gender, contrary to the males in the original being pretty much accepted straightaway. While still a sadly valid point in today’s world, it is one that needn’t be made in this instance in order to give them some credibility beyond their earnestness.
They are also lacking a sufficient antagonist, a role filled by scientist and ghost obsessed nerd Rowan North (Neil Casey), who unleashes the spirits on New York after years of being mocked for his interest in the occult. Rowan is a caricature at best, similar to Kevin but without the obvious humorous base, as if to remind us once again this is a film about girl power.
Personally, I have no problem with the new cast being female, I was mostly put off by WHOM those females were, although I only knew Wiig and McCarthy. That said McCarthy was more tolerable here than in Bridesmaids, while Wiig I’ve seen many times and found her a one-note performer of no substance whatsoever.
Kate McKinnon actually has some amusing quips and while a little to OTT as the eccentric Holtzmann for my tastes, is the most entertaining of the quartet. Leslie Jones is essentially the token black woman complete with the bespoke street verbiage to bring some credibility (?) to their operation but admittedly adds an interesting dynamic to the group.
On the visual front the effects range from the impressive to the decidedly poor for such a big budget project. Watching this on Blu-ray (and the extended version to boot), there is a neat gimmick which I presume they couldn’t do at the cinema which was to have the slime, the beams from the guns and other visual flourishes overlap the letterbox to create a substitute 3D effect.
For the older fans the original cast members (sans the late Harold Ramis who appears as a bronze bust) make cameo appearances, with Bill Murray’s being the most prominent as a curmudgeonly ghost debunker. A lot of the dialogue throws in some quotes and riffs from the original too, which will be viewed as either cute Easter egg tributes or shameless pandering.
So, was the blinkered prejudice demonstrated ahead of the film’s release actually justified? Not really but it did hurt its performances at the box office which had its critics gloating, while conspiracy theorists accused Sony of paying people to post positive reviews online and contriving press events with young girls clamouring to meet the female stars.
Honestly, I didn’t hate or dislike this new Ghostbusters, I just didn’t feel particularly engaged with it on any level and that is probably worse. It was always a going to be a tough challenge remaking or rebooting a beloved classic and maybe in someone else’s hands it might have worked.
Conclusion: It is what it is – not bad, not great, just there.