Director: Paul Feig Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones Running Time: 116 minutes
Undesirable baggage has followed the Ghostbusters remake from the moment it was first announced. For some, the sheer horror of women being chosen to get slimed while putting ghosts in a box in a movie for children has prompted a lot of teeth gnashing, keyboard smashing and toys being thrown from the pram (though not literally, can’t depreciate the value of that fully poseable Peter Venkman). The level of vitriol is, of course, unwarranted. Lo and behold a Ghostbusters movie starring women did not lead to dogs and cats living together or anything of that sort but instead to a funny if inconsistent movie.
The 2016 edition looks to distinguish itself through its approach to plot as well as it its gender swapping. Where the boys started off their pursuits uncaring about whether they were taken seriously, here Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) has given up her interest in the supernatural, having carried the fear and shame of not being believed since she was the misfit ‘Ghost Girl as a child. Trying to keep her record kook-free to ensure tenure at Columbia University, she tries to get childhood friend and former colleague Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and her eccentric associate Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to stop selling an old book the former two wrote together. Instead she gets sucked back in the world of ghost hunting after it turns out that there really is something strange in the neighbourhood after all. The trio, later joined by MTA worker and New York expert Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), investigate increased ghost activity in the city, brought about by an entitled while man with anger issues, a plot point that may not have existed before Internet Temper Tantrum #4627b.
If comparisons have to keep being made, it must be said that the chemistry between the leads is at least on par with messrs Murray, Ackroyd, Hudson and Ramis. They bounce off each other well and their enthusiasm goes a long way to keeping the fun feeling of the film going, even while Paul Feig struggles badly to direct them through some awkward action scenes. Kate McKinnon especially has already shot herself into the spotlight, making Holtzmann an eyebrow waggling queer vaudeville tornado who steals scenes and runs a silly run away with them. Chris Hemsworth, playing the women’s ditzy and unqualified secretary continues to show that he has great comedic timing (Thor is likewise a pretty but dim boy, long may it continue under Taika Waititi). Packed with call backs (and some awkward cameos), it gives the franchise about as much respect as it deserves, perhaps too much. It makes a good case for its own existence. The film is very joke dense too, achieving its most important job of being funny. Yet Ghostbusters‘ problems are mostly the same ones that every other modern American comedy has.
Like most American comedy directors, Feig lets his characters throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks. While that’s undoubtedly a factor in brewing chemistry it definitely has its drawbacks. Over reliance on improv inevitably leads to inconsistent or repetitive gags-there are only so many ways Hemsworth can show he’s dumb as a rock-and too much generosity in the editing room leads to a film with a misshapen feel that looses grip on its plot about halfway through. This particularly applies to the Erin-Abby relationship and Erin’s issues with not being believed, both of which fail to stick their landings.
This doesn’t stop Ghostbusters from being fun and in a week summer for blockbusters its worth having something simple and entertaining to wash the taste of mass destruction and macho posturing out of the mouth. It’s a film that could have used a tighter edit and struggles at times to escape the shadow of its originator, but it will definitely capture the imagination of the people its targeting, while not caring at all about the scorn it gets from the scornworthy.