Things I’m thankful for today:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. ‘Nuff said.
- The refrigerator started working again before the repairman came, saving us some money. It had gone into defrost mode after we lost power for 12 hours from the storms earlier this week and didn’t seem like it would ever come out of it. We now know how to get it working again.
- Movie night with my dad Tuesday night at the Nixa B&B.
I think we have Bill Murray to thank for this much maligned all-female Ghostbusters reboot. Having dug in his heels for decades until Harold Ramis passed away in 2014, he stalled development of a third movie in the franchise indefinitely. With Ramis’ passing, the key players officially shelved the idea, which somehow opened the door for director Paul Feig to step in and try to reinvent the wheel. His strategy is much the same–science professionals played by Second City alums are cast out by their colleagues for their interest in the paranormal and woo-woo and form a business capturing and containing ghosts, whose presence in New York City is on the rise. The reason for the increased paranormal activity in the original was based in the occult and Egyptian myth and, while silly, was presented with such credulity by Ramis and Dan Aykroyd that it spooked us and held us rapt. Here, it’s just some whack job who wants to kick-start the apocalypse. Standard, ho-hum stuff.
This movie’s cast is composed of female members of the SNL family–Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones–each of them a formidable comedic talent. Putting these ladies together seems a sure-fire recipe for success–wind them up and let them loose. After all, one of the things that worked so well for the original was Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman constantly undermining the legitimacy of the enterprise with sarcastic barbs and well-timed quips. There was also Rick Moranis as Sigourney Weaver’s tactless neighbor Louis Tully, a performance that brings me to tears every time, especially when he becomes the Keymaster. The original worked well because it capitalized on its comedians’ strengths.
Paul Feig has worked with these women before with much success. I figured he’d know how to use them properly, but unfortunately they’re very confined, it would seem, by a pressure to pay the proper homage and respect to the original. The 1984 original was so good because we’d never seen something quite like it. It was a terrifying and funny experiment, a combination of talent stitching together their own Frankenstein’s monster that was part of a zeitgeist of entertainment (along with Gremlins and Back to the Future) 80s children remember very fondly. These films have defined our lives. We don’t want anyone messing with them or rebooting them. They’re sacred, holy writ. Feig and his players approach this film as if they’re hyper-aware of this, and I think the caution is their undoing. The reboot is conventional. It follows much the same formula set by the original when it should have brazenly forged its own new path.
As physics professor Erin Gilbert, Wiig is ostensibly the “straight guy” of the crew, dressed in conservative earth tones, trying to maintain a picture of decorum and respectability. Wiig has played straight in several of her roles with much success, and it works for her here to a degree. I was amused by her lusting after the stupid but hot receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), in one scene drinking from a cup of coffee he had just spit into. Unfortunately, every other member of the team also plays it straight. Even the louder-than-life Leslie Jones is held back in a misguided attempt to replicate Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddmore, who said, “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” (The movie seems quite aware of this resemblance with Hudson’s cameo.) McCarthy has nary a funny moment to call her own, save for a running joke regarding not having enough won-tons in her Chinese takeout. On her SNL bits, McCarthy is often the most unhinged character in the room. She may be the funniest comedienne working today. Here, she’s only slightly zanier than Wiig when she should be the team’s unhinged black sheep. McKinnon is the only one playing to her strengths. Her Jillian Holtzmann resembles Egon Spengler from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, with wild blond hair and goggly glasses. McKinnon is able to get a laugh often just by lurking with an insistently focused and crazy stare, a well-timed wink, or some understated off-hand remark. Put at the service of a better film, Holtzmann would be border-line iconic. It’s a shame it won’t be remembered well. Everyone here is just too respectful of the original, and because of that, the movie is ultimately useless.
I’m going to get flamed for this, but Ghostbusters isn’t a complete waste. It has merits that make it occasionally an enjoyable diversion. Chris Hemsworth is a hilarious revelation as the hot but hopelessly stupid receptionist Kevin. He gets the film’s biggest laughs, such as in an extended riff about his dog named “Mike Hat.” I’ve already mentioned Kate McKinnon. The special effects are excellent–not nearly as scary as the original, but I enjoyed the color palette. The ghosts are rendered in psychedelic neon greens and blues, the plasma beams from the proton blasters in blazing orange, pink, and red. The DVD presentation tries to replicate the 3D experience by having the effects often pop out of the letterbox. The effects crew deserves special recognition.
Also, if you’ve watched the original recently, you’ve probably realized it’s not as family-friendly as you remember it. I’ve often thought, What on Earth were my parents thinking? Of course, I’ve shown it to my kids anyway, hoping Dana/Zuul’s sexual comments to Venkman would fly over their heads and escape their attention. But if you want a fun, spooky experience for your older children in the 8-12 range, this Ghostbusters is comparatively pretty tame. It will not ever replace the original, and I think part of the visceral reaction to the reboot is that fans thought it would. But it’s we the people who decide. We have spoken. Let’s quit flogging this film. Watch it if any of the above sounds mildly appealing to you, then go relish the original, knowing that nobody could do it better than Ivan Reitman and his team of Not Quite Ready for Prime-time Players.