Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusers 2016 was written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig. It was directed by Paul Feig.

Dippold previously worked mostly in television, writing scripts for MadTV and Parks And Recreation. On the film side of things, she wrote The Heat (which also starred Melissa McCarthy).

Feig is a prolific actor, writer and director. 
He created (and wrote several scripts for) Freaks And Geeks, which is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. He also wrote the screenplay for Spy, another Melissa McCarthy vehicle. 

He's directed episodes of many top notch TV series, including Freaks And Geeks, Undeclared, Arrested Development, Mad Men, 30 Rock, The Office and Parks And Recreation. On the theatrical side, he directed Unaccompanied Minors (!), Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy. I'm not sure why, but I like his TV work much more than his films. His movies seem to be becoming increasingly insufferable as time goes by.

I've been a big fan of the original Ghostbusters ever since I saw it in the theater way back in 1984. It was a perfect storm of casting, screenwriting, talent and special effects that shouldn't have worked, but somehow gelled and became a comedy classic (Ghostbusters 2, not so much). 

The new film is certainly slick and polished, but it lacks the spark that made the original so special. It's also painfully unfunny, as it tries to substitute rambling improvisation for actual scripted jokes. I think I laughed maybe twice during the entire film. There's just no excuse for making a humorless Ghostbusters movie.

Good, bad or ugly, I'm just glad this goddamned movie is finally out so I never have to hear about it ever again.

From the second it was first announced, the film has been extremely divisive, mainly due to the all female cast. For months and months before the movie premiered, the internet was filled with terabytes of harsh, angry comments regarding the four leads, as fans of the original Ghostbusters claimed the presence of four women in the film would destroy the beloved franchise. When the first trailer premiered, it actually became the all-time most hated video on YouTube (by people who keep track of such things).

Like many fans, I wasn't looking forward to this new version either. I have no problem with the gender of the cast. Really, I don't! The problem is I just don't find any of these women the least bit funny. I honestly don't get Kristen Wiig, as I've yet to see her do or say anything even mildly humorous. I think Melissa McCarthy is extremely grating, and Kate McKimmon's appeal alludes me as well. Leslie Jones seems to have one loud, unfunny character that she plays over and over. Please believe me when I say I don't have anything against female comedians per se. It's just that these four do absolutely nothing for me.

Your mileage may vary here of course. If you think any or all of these comedians are funny, then you'll likely find the film hilarious. If not, well...

Naturally, anyone who expressed a dislike for any of these women was immediately labeled as sexist and anti-feminist. Because in the politically correct hellscape that passes for our current society, you're no longer allowed to dislike anything. Doing so will cause you to immediately be branded a "hater." God forbid I should watch a trailer and decide for myself that it just doesn't look funny.

Paul Feig smarmily insisted that he didn't deliberately cast four females as part of any agenda, saying he simply chose the funniest people he knows. 
That's a bald-faced lie. As proof, there's a very ugly anti-male undercurrent in this film. Every man in the film is either an idiot or evil. 

Additionally, the all-female leads feels like a perfect example of "stunt casting" to me. Any time you put the word "All" in front of your cast, it's a stunt. "All female," "All black," "All child," "All washed-up 1980s action stars"— those are all examples of stunt casting. 

Feig vehemently defended his cast though, saying it's high time we had a sci-fi film with strong female characters. Because of course that's never been done before (Ellen Ripley)! No, we've never had a genre movie with a kickass heroine (Sara Connor) who doesn't need a man to save her (Vasquez). Nope, never happened in the history of cinema (Lara Croft), so of course such a thing is long overdue (Alice from the Resident Evil movies). Yep, Feig was correct to finally right this (Imperator Furiosa) grievous wrong. 

I'm also not a fan of the Feig's patented brand of improv humor. There are very few actual scripted jokes in the film, as most of the humor feels ad-libbed and improvised. It's painfully obvious that Feig just turned on the camera and told the cast to start riffing away and "be funny." A perfect example of that is when the Kevin character talks about his dog, who's named "Mike Hat." Get it? "My Cat?" I absolutely guarantee that line wasn't in the original script and Chris Hemsworth came up with it on the spot. Feh. I like my humor scripted, thanks.

I really wish this film had been a sequel rather than a remake. 
I'd have been much more receptive to it if they'd taken that route. Why not have the original characters make a brief appearance and "pass the torch" to the new folks, and hand over their proton packs to them? Answer: Because then the female Ghostbusters would have acquired their technology from MEN instead of developing it by themselves, and that is something that cannot not be allowed in 2016.

Starting over from scratch, pretending the original doesn't exist and believing they could improve upon it is a misfire in my opinion. It's a slap in the face to fans of the franchise, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Oddly enough Dan Aykroyd is an executive producer on the film, while original director Ivan Reitman is listed as a producer. Apparently they were both OK with the idea of a remake rather than a sequel, which is puzzling to me.

They do bring the old cast back for a series of cringe-worthy cameos, but it felt like pandering to me, rather than reverence. Plus they're all playing brand new characters, not the old favorites, which was disappointing to say the least. And every time one of these original actors appears, the plot grinds to a halt. They end up becoming a distraction rather than a tribute.

Bill Murray in particular looks like he couldn't possibly care less and would rather be anywhere else than in this film. He can't even be bothered to stand during his scenes, as he immediately heads for the nearest chair and sits down.

Plus, seeing Bill Murray in this particular film only served to infuriate me. For decades, Dan Aykroyd begged and pleaded with him to reprise his role as Peter Venkman for a third Ghostbusters film. Murray continually dragged his feet, refusing to ever commit to the project, which delayed it year after year.

Then after the untimely death of actor Harold Ramis, when it's too late to get the entire gang back together again, Murray finally commits to the project, and deigns to film a cameo appearance in a Ghostbusters remake as a completely new character. What the hell? He wouldn't come back for a sequel, but he'll come back for a sub-par remake? F*ck you, Bill Murray!

I wish they'd have just jettisoned the cameos and the callbacks and gone in an entirely new direction, rather than rehashing the same old plot. We've already had two Ghostbusters movies in which a giant monster menaces New York City at the end, and now there's a third. Wouldn't this have been the perfect opportunity to do something different with the franchise? You can't blow up the Death Star every time, guys. It's way past time for something new.

For a film that wants to be judged on its own merits and prove that women can do anything men can do (only better), it can't go five minutes without dredging up a reference or callback to the original. They even bring back Slimer, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the Ecto-1 and the firehouse headquarters, for Zuul's sake! Even the plot is virtually identical. They even use the same theme song! Everything's been duplicated but the humor.

So far the film is underperforming at the box office, grossing a bit under $90 million (against its $144 million budget). It's going to be an uphill struggle for it to turn a profit. It's not going to get any help from the lucrative Chinese market either, as the government there has banned the film, calling it "witchcraft."

For all the hoopla, I have a feeling that after the dust settles this new film will become largely forgotten and the original Ghostbusters will continue to be as popular as it ever was, if not more so. People worried that when the Total Recall remake came out, it would either supplant the original in popularity or taint its legacy. That didn't happen. The remake was so poorly received that it was soon forgotten. The same with the Robocop remake. Both were blips on the public's radar for a few brief moments and then disappeared, never to be heard about or spoken of again. I'm betting that's what'll happen with Ghostbusters 2016.


The Plot:
The film opens in the Aldridge Mansion, a famous haunted house in New York City. A tour guide rattles off the history of the building, including the fact that Gertrude Aldridge, daughter of the Mansion's builder, went insane and was kept locked in the basement by her father. The tour group doesn't notice a glowing, high tech device hidden under a dresser. Later as the guide closes up shop, he hears strange sounds coming from the basement. He checks and sees green slime bubbling up through the floor, as the ghost of Gertrude Aldridge appears (credit where credit's due: this was actually somewhat scary, and not a bad way to update the library scene from the original).

At Columbia University, Dr. Erin Gilbert (played by Kristen Wiig) is doing her best to become a tenured physics professor, shamelessly kissing up to stuffy dean Harold Filmore (very briefly played by Game Of Thrones' Charles Dance). She's horrified when she discovers the book she co-wrote years ago with her former friend Abby Yates (played by Melissa McCarthy)— all about the paranormal— has resurfaced on Amazon (product placement!).

Erin fears the book will scotch her chances of getting tenure. She goes to the technical college where Abby works with her new partner Jillian Holtzmann (played by Kate McKinnon), a brilliant and eccentric engineer. After an argument, Abby says she'll pull the book if Erin will investigate the Aldridge Mansion haunting with her. Erin reluctantly agrees.

The three visit the Mansion. As Holtzmann films the interior, the ghost of Gertrude Aldridge appears. Erin tries to talk to the ghost, but it spews ectoplasmic slime all over her and disappears. Erin enthusiastically proclaims ghosts are real on the tape, which goes viral. Dean Filmore sees the tape online and fires Erin, saying her belief in the supernatural gives the university a bad name.

After the incident, Abby and Holtzmann demand more research money from their college. Their Dean admits he didn't know their department even existed, and fires them on the spot. The three now jobless women decide to open their own paranormal research facility.

Meanwhile, Patty Tolan (played by Leslie Jones) is a bored MTA worker who's also an expert on the history of New York. She meets a weird man named Rowan, who tells her about a "fourth cataclysm" that's coming soon. She spots Rowan entering a dangerous subway tunnel and chases after him. Inside the tunnel she sees him plant a device like the one in the Aldridge Mansion. The device begins sparking and conjures up a ghost in the tunnel. Patty flees in terror.

Erin, Abby and Holtzmann set up their Department Of Metaphysical Examination above a Chinese restaurant (because they can't afford the rent on the traditional Ghostbusters firehouse). They hire a hunky male receptionist named Kevin (played by Chris Hemsworth) and spend the rest of the movie making derogatory remarks about his low intelligence while ogling him. Sexism's funny when women do it!

Patty shows up at their lab and tells them about the subway ghost. Curious, the women follow her to the tunnel. They see the ghost again, and Erin attempts to capture it with one of Holtzmann's cobbled together proton packs. It fails, and the ghost escapes on a passing train. This new video also goes viral, and the internet dubs the women "Ghostbusters." Patty inexplicably quits her job and joins the team, since she knows the city's history and can borrow her uncle's hearse so they can haul their equipment around more easily. Annnnd now they have their own version of the Ecto-1.

Holtzmann improves and streamlines the proton packs, and comes up with a few other devices as well, including proton pistols, a ghost disintegrating grenade, and a proton glove. She also invents a containment unit to hold the ghosts once captured.

Meanwhile, Rowan plants another of his ghost-attracting devices at a heavy metal concert. The Ghostbusters investigate and find a large, dragon-like (?) ghost there. They capture the ghost, and the crowd thinks it's all part of the show. Later the Ghostbusters are taken to a secret meeting with the Mayor of New York. He says he's thankful for their help, but fears a citywide panic if the public found out that ghosts and the supernatural are real. He tells them to continue their work, but says that in order to maintain the peace, publicly he'll have to label them frauds.

Back at the lab, the Ghostbusters notice a pattern in all the ghostly occurrences. They're all happening along the city's "ley lines," which are alignments of mystical energy. The lines all intersect at the Mercado Hotel. When they investigate the place, they find Rowan has a secret lair in the basement. He's built a large engine there which he plans to use to open a portal to the afterlife and release ghosts into our world. Abby tries to talk him out of his plan, but when he hears the police coming, he electrocutes himself.

Later Erin reads through Rowan's notes, and discovers he deliberately killed himself to become a ghost, so he can start up the Fourth Cataclysm and lead an army of ghosts to scour the world.

In the lab, Abby is possessed by Rowan's spirit and starts destroying their equipment. Patty slaps Rowan out of Abby, and his spirit then inhabits the empty-headed Kevin. Rowan/Kevin returns to his lair and starts up the machine again, which opens a huge cliched portal over the city. Thousands of ghost flow through the portal and flood Boston, er, I mean New York (three guesses where the movie was actually filmed).

Abby, Holtzmann and Patty head out to start busting ghosts. They encounter a small, blobular green ghost, who for absolutely no reason at all turns out to be Slimer. He steals the Ecto-1 and goes joyriding in it. Patty starts to shoot at the car, but Holtzmann stops her, saying the equipment on top is basically an unstable nuclear bomb. I smell a plot point coming on...

The three are then attacked by giant, haunted (I guess?) Thanksgiving Day Parade character balloons, including one that looks like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Sigh… He dives onto them, flattening them against the ground. Erin shows up and pops the Marshmallow Man balloon with her Swiss Army knife.

The Ghostbusters then fight their way through the army of ghosts, back to the hotel. There they see that Rowan/Kevin has possessed the army and police, freezing them in place. Rowan says he's bored with Kevin (?) and exits his body. He then takes on a new form— that of the happy-looking spirit in the Ghostbusters logo (oy). He then grows to gigantic size, just like a Power Rangers monster, and begins rampaging through the city, which is something we've never seen before (that was, I say that was sarcasm, son).

Just then Slimer roars by in the Ecto-1, and Holtzmann gets the bright idea to drive it into the portal and detonate the nukes on it, which will hopefully reverse the polarity of the neutron flow or something. They fire their proton packs at Slimer to herd the car into the portal and then shoot the nukes atop it. Sure enough, the plan works, and the ghosts all over the city are sucked back into the portal.

Unfortunately the gigantic Rowan is holding onto a couple of buildings to prevent himself from being pulled in. The girls shoot him in the crotch, forcing him to let go. Nope, nothing anti-male about this film at all!

Just then Rowan grabs Abby, and the two are sucked into the portal. Thinking fast, Erin ties a rope around her waist and dives in. Inside the swirling, supernatural vortex, Erin catches up to Rowan. She shoots his hand, causing him to let go of her friend. Erin grabs onto Abby, as Rowan falls into the endless void.

Patty and Holtzmann pull Erin and Abby out of the portal seconds before it closes forever. As a result of their trip to the other side, Erin and Abby's hair has turned completely white.

Later, the Mayor continues to deny the existence of ghosts, saying the whole incident was a mass hallucination or something. However, he secretly funds the Ghostbusters, offering them anything they need to continue their work and safeguard the city against further supernatural threats. They upgrade their headquarters to the fire house.

In the after credits scene, the team is in the lab while Patty's listening to an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) tape. She hears something odd on the tape, and asks "What's Zuul?" Groan!


• As I mentioned earlier, for a movie that's allegedly all about gender and equality, it's surprisingly misandrist. Every male character is either evil, extremely stupid, socially awkward or grossly incompetent. 

As proof of this you need look no further than the Kevin character. He's a huge slab of beef who's so dim he doesn't even understand how glass works (seriously!). The Ghostbusters hire him solely for his good looks, then spend the rest of the film ridiculing his low intelligence as they shamelessly leer at him. In fact they do everything but grind their privates against his body. Their actions come dangerously close to sexual harassment (if they don't cross the line completely).

Imagine how this little subplot would have gone over if the genders had been reversed. Apparently belittling and harassing women is verboten, but it's OK to do the same with males.

Now compare Kevin to Janine Melnitz, the receptionist in the original Ghostbusters. Janine was a strong female character who was attractive but also intelligent and competent. The male characters respected her and treated her as an equal.

This "men are stupid" attitude even extends to background characters. In the lab, Abby and Holtzmann watch a supernatural reality show called "Ghost Bros," featuring a group of overenthusiastic frat boys who "give paranormal investigation a bad name."

• The internet at large seems to be in love with Kate McKimmon's Holtzmann character. "She's a national treasure!" and "Every second she's onscreen is gold!" are just a few of the many gushing actual comments I read.

I thought McKimmon was extremely annoying and grating, as she spends the entire movie shamelessly mugging at the camera. McKimmon needs a director who can reign her in and force her to tone it down a notch or twelve. Obviously Feig is not that director, as he apparently believed her every facial tick and bizarre utterance was pure magic.

• I assume Holtzmann's look is a shout out to the animated version of Egon from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. She's got the same glasses and poofed-up blonde pompadour as her animated counterpart. I guess this is only natural, since Holtzmann is most definitely a live action cartoon character, as opposed to an actual fleshed-out human being.

• When the first trailer appeared, I was appalled by Leslie Jones, who seemed to be playing the same "Loud, Angry Black Woman" character she plays in every episode of Saturday Night Live.

I was very surprised to find out that's not the case in the actual film. In fact she was the least annoying of the four main characters, and my favorite thing about the movie. She was the only one who seemed to be an actual person, rather than a character (or caricature, in some cases). Yes, she did have a couple of loud moments, but they were few and far between.

Whoever edited that horrible trailer needs to be fired, pronto.

• As I said earlier, I remember laughing exactly twice during the film. Once was at the beginning, when the Tour Guide describes the Aldridge Mansion by saying, "At the time of its construction, it was one of the most elegant homes in existence, featuring every luxury, including a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence." See, now that's a funny joke. Not because it's anti-Irish, but because it sounds like something that would have actually happened in New York City in the 1800s.

The other time I laughed was when Jonathan the theater manager (played by Michael McDonald) uttered his high-pitched shriek. That's it, folks. That's all I got.

On the flip side, there were more unfunny lines than I could possibly list here. Oddly enough, most of them were uttered by Kate McKimmon's Holtzmann character. Here's a sampling of her lines that thudded to the ground like sacks of sour laundry:

Holtzmann: "Booyah! Emphasis on the boo!" That's… that's not a joke.

Holtzmann: (as she's caught eating Pringles at an inappropriate moment) "Just try saying no to these salty parabolas!"

Holtzmann: (after pranking Erin by playing a "hilarious" fart sound on a tape) "Is it more or less disgusting if I tell you it came out the front?" Yes, folks, Ghostbusters 2016 just made a quiff joke.

Holtzmann: (after discovering there's probably a dead body in back of Patty's uncle's hearse) "I can think of seven good uses of a cadaver, tuh-DAY!" Again, that is not a joke. And the way she overemphasizes the word "today" is nothing short of bizarre.

Erin: (after returning from the void) "What year is it?"
Holtzmann: "It's 2040. Our president is a plant!" 
Again, saying the weirdest non-sequitur you can think of is not a joke.

Holtzmann: "You just got Holtzmanned, baby!" Somehow I doubt people will be quoting that line like they do "Dogs and cats, living together…"

• Product placement ahoy! When the girls are in the haunted mansion and meet their first ghost, Holtzmann starts snacking on Pringles for absolutely no reason other than because they paid Sony a sh*tload of money for product placement. The scene gives the word "blatant" new meaning.

To be fair, the original Ghostbusters had more than its fair share of obvious and obnoxious product placement as well. Cheez-Its, Coca-Cola, Perrier, Lay’s, Fritos, Hostess Twinkies, Wise potato chips, USA Today and even Budweiser beer were all featured prominently in the original film, so… I guess I can't complain too loudly about this aspect.

• As I said above, for months before the film's premiere, the internet was positively awash with negative comments about the gender of the four leads. Amazingly the movie actually references all the internet hate! 

Holtzmann posts their encounter with the ghost of Gertrude Aldridge online, and it immediately goes viral. Abby reads a few of the comments on the video, one of which is, "Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts!"

I'm assuming that comment was thrown in to undermine all the haters, but… when an aspect of your film generates this much controversy, it's probably not a good idea to call undue attention to it.

• Abby, Erin and Holtzmann are all fired from their college positions, which leads to their decision to form the Ghostbusters. 

I'm struggling to understand why Patty would quit her job with the city just to hook up with them though. Sure, her mass transit job probably isn't very exciting, but it's more secure and stable than ghost busting, and no doubt has better benefits.

• At one point Erin proclaims that "books can't fly and neither can babies." Both happened respectively in the original Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II.

• I liked most of the new Ghostbusting equipment, like the proton grenades, proton pistols and proton glove. They were well thought out and seemed like a logical extension of the technology from the original film.

One piece of equipment I didn't care for though was the new PKE meter. The old one (on the left above) looked like a real piece of technology that performed an actual function. The new one, with its dumb looking, lighted whirling blades, looks for all the word like a kid's toy. Like something you'd find at Spencer's Gifts before they turned into a porn shop. Maybe its ridiculousness is supposed to be part of the joke?

• In all, there are five cameos by members of the original Ghostbusters cast. Six, if you count the late Harold Ramis. Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man also make cameo appearances. 

Unfortunately, none of the human characters reprise their original roles, instead appearing as distracting new characters that stop the plot cold whenever they appear. Cue sad trombone. 

Bill Murray plays spiritual debunker Martin Heiss. He's quite the asshole, much like the real Bill Murray. His character is killed when he demands to see one of the Ghostbusters trapped spirits. When they let it out, it knocks him out the window and he falls to his death. Note that this is all played for comedic effect. Oh, my sides!

Note: According to the novelization of the film, Heiss doesn't die from his fall, and the incident causes him to reverse his negative opinion of the Ghostbusters. Sorry, but I shouldn't have to do homework to find out what happens to a character. Movie novelizations don't count. As far as I'm concerned he's dead. 

Dan Aykroyd plays a cab driver who exclaims,
"I don't go to Chinatown, I don't drive wackos, and I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" Oy gevalt.

Ernie Hudson appears as Patty's uncle, who loans her the hearse that becomes the new Ecto-1. 

Annie Potts plays a disgruntled hotel clerk, uttering some of the same lines she did in the original film.

Siogourney Weaver appears as Rebecca Gorin, Holtzmann's equally deranged mentor. 

Harold Ramis makes sort of a posthumous appearance. When Dean Filmore exits Erin's office, there's a gold bust of a man wearing glasses in the hallway. That bust is supposed to be Harold Ramis, aka Egon Spengler. Hear that high pitched, whining noise? That's Ramis spinning rapidly in his grave after finding out his image was used in this cinematic turd.

Actor Rick Moranis (who played Louis Tully in the original film) was approached to make a cameo appearance, but told the producers to get lost. Good for him.

• When Rowan is possessing Kevin's body, he takes control of the entire army and police force, making them freeze in place. He even makes them participate in an elaborate dance number, if you stay for the end credits.

So... if he has that much power over humans, why doesn't he just use it against any of the Ghostbusters? Why not order them to shoot one another with their proton packs and be rid of them?

• I was going to mention that the idea of the Ghostbusters logo coming to life and stomping on the city was the stupidest plot point I'd ever seen in a film. Then I realized it's no stupider than the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man doing the same thing. So I'll give 'em this one.

Still, the Stay-Puft Man was actually funny. Somehow the logo is not.

• At the end of the film, Rowan opens a portal to the other side, which for some reason transforms Times Square into an older version of itself. The entire area becomes a hodgepodge of previous eras, as I spotted ads from the 1930s through the 1970s.

So… are these ghosts of buildings and billboards? Did Rowan send the entire block back in time? I'm confused here...

• At the end of the film, the Mayor of New York claims the whole Rowan incident was a "mass hallucination" that never happened. 

The Ghostbusters then look out over the city, and see the public has arranged the lights in various buildings to spell out messages thanking them.

So which is it? Do the citizens know the Ghostbusters saved them or not? You can't have it both ways, movie.

• In the post credits scene, the Ghostbusters are working in their lab. Patty listens to a recording of alleged ghostly voices captured on tape, looks puzzled and says
, "I heard something really weird. What's 'Zuul'?"

Obviously they're setting up the big bad for a potential sequel here. I should point out though that in the original film, Zuul, aka The Gatekeeper, was just a minion of Gozer, who was the real threat. It's possible they're aware of this and are paving the way for Gozer, but who knows? C'mon guys, if you're going to strip mine the mythology, at least get the names right.

Ghostbusters 2016 is a tepid, ill-advised remake that adds little or nothing to the franchise. Worst of all it's just plain not funny, failing to capture the wit and dry humor of the original. I advise giving it a miss— I took one for the team and saw it so you don't have to. I give it a C.

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