Thursday, July 14, 2016

Despite Some Clunkiness, The Gender-Swapped GHOSTBUSTERS Goes Over Like Gangbusters

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

GHOSTBUSTERS (Dir. Paul Feig, 2016)

The extreme nerd rage over the release of this reboot has amounted to one of the stupidest controversies in movie history. I loved the 1984 original too and consider it a comedy classic, but it really doesn’t strike me as blasphemy to make a new version with female leads.

Especially when the core cast is comprised of such comic greats as Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and 
Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy, who's hosted SNL multiple times, who are more than capable of filling the ghost-busting shoes of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson.

Factor in writer/director Paul Feig, whose films I’ve liked for the most part (really enjoyed BRIDEMAIDS and SPY; THE HEAT not so much), and the prospect of a new GHOSTBUSTERS is a big “why not?”

If it sucks it’ll just be a big “so what?” as it’ll just be another addition to the world of offshoots from the first film which included a lame sequel, a couple of animated series, and multiple video game adaptations.

Thankfully though, GHOSTBUSTERS 2016 doesn’t suck – it’s a spirited update with a lot of laughs and likability, but it does take a bit to get going.

That is, after its superb opening which posits the lanky Zach Woods (The Office, Silicon Valley) as a tour guide in a haunted, fictional mansion who gets scared half to death by what will be later labeled a “class-four apparition.”

From there Feig’s film settles into a laid back groove as it introduces Wiig as Erin Gilbert, a mousy, uptight professor at Columbia (same university from the original), who is trying to keep a book about ghosts being real that she wrote with her childhood friend Abby Yates (McCarthy) secret as it would threaten her tenure.

Erin goes to confront her former friend at the Higgins Institute of Science (whose Dean is played by SNL writer/ Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show announcer Steve Higgins in a amusingly crude cameo) about her selling the book online, and finds that Abby and her new assistant, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) have been perfecting new ghost catching equipment (which looks a lot like the gear from the original).

The trio investigate the mansion from the prologue which results in Erin getting slimed, and denied tenure as well as losing her job. Erin, Abby, and Jillian go into business together and set up headquarters in a shabby office above a Chinese restaurant (they wanted the firehouse from the original but it wasn’t in their budget).

They are soon joined by Jones as a sassy subway worker who has encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s history, and Chris Hemsworth as their airheaded, and just plain odd receptionist that Wiig’s Erin crushes on.

A creepy Neil Casey, a writer/comic actor who should be familiar to viewers of Inside Amy Schumer as well as various other Comedy Central shows, is the movie’s villain – the still bitter over being bullied Rowan North who has plans to harness the power of evil spirits to take over New York.

At nearly 2 hours, GHOSTBUSTER’s running time has a lot of fat that could be trimmed, and there are a number of clunky bits of what I assume is improv, but the energy is high enough to provide a more than reasonable amount of fun. Even in the case of the big inevitable overblown CGI-saturated climax.

Cameos by Murray, who sadly wasn’t given a funny line; Aykroyd, who does have one even if it’s a call back; Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver, all as new characters, also add to the good-will vibe, but you just know their involvement will do little to silence detractors. I bet the appearance of Slimer won't even do that.

The leading ladies are great together, though Wiig seems a bit restrained, and McCarthy, while still funny, doesn’t really bring much in the way of new schtick (expect the standard scene of her being violently thrown against a wall). That leaves McKinnon to be sharply weird, which she’s got down to a T; and Jones to be loud, abrasive, and possibly the most fearlessly funny of the foursome.

Fairing well too are appearances by Andy Garcia as the mayor, and Ciecely Strong (another familiar face from SNLas one of his top aides. It's a well choosen comic cast for sure, even if some of Hemsworth's attempts to steal the movie are groaners.

It may be only a good, not great update as it doesn’t have the quotability that made the original a classic, but, despite its flaws, the new gender-swapped GHOSTBUSTERS goes over like gangbusters.

More later...

No comments: