One step away from earning tenure at Princeton, physics wizard Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is drawn back into one of those inexplicable friendships that drive most buddy comedies. Her childhood friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), hasn’t given up on their paranormal exploits. Having enlisted the aid of “nuclear scientist” Jill Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) who constructs gadgets for ghost hunting (something an electrical engineer would do, but never mind), Abby coerces Jill into a trip to a mansion haunted by a Lizzie Borden wannabe. Zach Woods (Jared from HBO’s Silicon Valley) as a tour guide-slash-charlatan sets up an opening that could go in any direction, but doesn’t. From here, the film re-treads all the major beats of the original GHOSTBUSTERS (1984, dir. Ivan Reitman), yet even that isn’t where it falls apart.
Written by Kate Dippold (THE HEAT), the screenplay re-creates the Venkman-Spengler-Stanz triad with the Zeddmore stand-in repeating the fifth wheel role thrown to Ernie Hudson (this time Leslie Jones as the token streetwise African-American MTA worker). That the dialogue is peppered with copious amounts of faux-technobabble seems an unnecessary pre-emptive strike against fringe misogynists. They’re not the film’s greatest obstacle to success.
Instead of trusting the comedic talents of the principals, director Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS, SPY) prematurely dials a lifeline in the form of cameos and nods right on the heels of unfolding the first ecto-terrorist plot I’ve ever seen in cinema. The instant Bill Murray shows up to tangentially reprise his role as a skeptic, any hope of the film standing on its own merits is lost. And even still, the core problem lies elsewhere.
It’s not that this go-around regurgitates the spectral introduction, the band getting back together, the token black person, the hearse, the headquarters-on-a-budget, the calculating Mayor and his ambitious sidekick, the containment system that can’t contain, haunted Manhattan, the Fourth Cataclysm (if you’re going to bring that up and leave out the rectification of the Voldrani and the Third Reconciliation of the last of the Maketric supplicants… well, I have no words for you)… It’s the inconsistency of the dialogue, story and editing that leaves me flat.
After the crafty opening haunt at the mansion, the first act plays like an SNL sketch with each of the seasoned players channeling characters that feel too borrowed from earlier material. When the acting comes off its stilts, the narrative climbs aboard and trundles dutifully through all the transit stops until we arrive, predictably, at a climactic sequence that makes you wonder how Michelin turned down promotional placement in a successful franchise twice.
I almost forgot to tell you that Chris Hemsworth is in this film. That the film spends a great deal of time dwelling on his dumber-than-styrofoam character because there’s so little confidence in the comedic chops of the four female principals should tell you why I don’t care that Hemsworth is in this film. Sure, he’s great to look at and jokes abound. But it leaves me wondering if studios have forgotten who they are trying to please, are trying to please everyone and no one at the same time, or simply don’t care if they please anyone at all. The film won’t please film purists who believe that GHOSTBUSTERS should never have been remade. The film won’t please women for whom the fabrication of intelligent banter seems lazy. The film might please eight to twelve year olds, who will have no knowledge or recollection of the original … begging the question as to why so much time and effort needed to be spent revisiting old territory and paying overspent actors for unnecessary appearances if the likeliest audience for this film doesn’t know or doesn’t care.
The one person at my screening who I can say was truly excited about this entire affair periodically shouted, “WHOYAGONNACALLLLLLL” in a way that telegraphed his blood alcohol content. And I am convinced that the average eight to twelve year old is more demanding in their tastes.
A parting thought: As I left the theater, my conscience grappled: Is this the future of cinema? Are we doomed to an endless stream of recycled pictures consisting entirely of reconstituted gristle seasoned with guest appearances (in thirty years can we expect Wiig and co. to make cameos in a rebooted reboot?), so that, like a few theme parks that come to mind, the audience can fork out the gross domestic product of a small country to rent a chair, watch oversaturated colors fly at them (in gimmicky 3D) on an improperly lit projection with uncomfortably loud sound? I’m trying to think of a witty, Gene Shalit punchline to this… but now I’m just fucking depressed.