Saturday, August 6, 2016

"Ghostbusters" (2016)

Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon
Written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig
Directed by Paul Feig
Rated PG-13 — Language, frightening images
Running Time: 116 Minutes

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is forced to confront a part of her past she'd rather leave behind when the manager of an old New York City mansion that is now a museum approaches her about a ghost encounter. Fearing that knowledge of her past as a paranormal investigator will cause her trouble as she nears a tenure review at Columbia University, she tracks down her old friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Abby works out of a much less prestigious educational institution, eking out a meager paranormal research career with her friend, brilliant and eccentric engineer Dr. Jillian Holztmann (Kate McKinnon).

The three of them head to the mansion and manage to capture a malicious entity on videotape, which quickly goes viral and all three are soon laughed out of academia and called frauds. But MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) tracks the three down after having her own ghost encounter in the subway, one which leaves behind strange and specific evidence that points to a growing supernatural problem in the city.

Together with their doofus receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), these four friends join together to combat the rising tide of ghosts and hopefully prove once and for all that they're not frauds.

Oh man, where to even start? With an obvious joke: Bustin' makes me feel good. After an absolutely vicious smear campaign by angry online nerds, Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" is here and people can finally judge it for what it is instead of what they don't want it to be or whatever the hell people were going on about for the last 18 months.

And yeah, "Ghostbusters" is good. Really good. It has a few weak spots, but to be honest, it's a movie that's just so much pure fun that it earns us letting a couple minor things slide.

Perhaps knowingly, much of the story hinges on the idea of the world seeing these women as frauds. While his cameo ultimately doesn't amount to much (and, honestly, isn't particularly funny), it's kind of a stroke of genius to cast Bill Murray as a famed debunker of the supernatural since it was Murray who was so often blamed for the lack of a third "Ghostbusters" film with the original cast. The movie doesn't lean too hard on the meta-commentary about these Ghostbusters as pretenders or charlatans, which feels to me a bit like it's pulling its punches. Additionally, the film's villain is a Redditor stereotype, a "weirdo" with violent delusions of grandeur who thinks the world owes him something. The movie perhaps could have been a bit sharper on this respect, but then, I also found myself wishing part way through the movie that it had been rated R and included some more foul language (something that definitely helped Feig's breakout "Bridesmaids.")

But I digress.

For its strengths, that lies in three key places: the marvelous cast, the quick-witted absurdity of the script and the most technically proficient direction from Paul Feig that I've seen yet. For Feig, this is a step up from the parts of "Spy" that leaned heavily into straight action. It feels like each movie he makes, while always a comedy, feels more confident and assured than the last, and "Ghostbusters" is easily his slickest.

For the script, Feig collaborated with Katie Dippold and I'm sure that the cast was allowed to do an incredible amount of improv. (I await gag reels and goofy behind-the-scenes footage sure to appear on the blu-ray release.) Much of the humor comes out of allowing all these personalities to bounce off each other as the gang gets into increasingly weirder and crazier situations. Much of the humor in this film doesn't translate well to trailers, which may have contributed to some of the negative reactions it got (y'know, that and all the nonsensical misogyny and nerdrage). It's just not a script full of trailer-ready lines and gags.

One of the great strengths of the movie is its cast. Everyone here has wonderful chemistry. All the Ghostbusters are believably nerdy in their own way, and while there's still the overall group makeup of three scientists and a lay-person, the characters aren't one-to-one translations of the originals, allowing each one to be mostly distinct.

While the laughs do come from all four, I have to repeat all the other reviewers in their praise of Kate McKinnon's performance as Holtzmann. With just a look, she can steal every scene she's in. From her fascinatingly awkward (and dangerous) dances to oddball one-liners to the simple act of eating a Pringle at the worse time possible, she owns it. She gets the biggest cheers in the film's climactic battle sequence, as well, a showcase of action-movie badassery that is entirely satisfying.

Additionally, Chris Hemsworth is cast in the role of the "dumb blonde" and completely nails it. His job interview scene alone is gold, but every time he's forced to confront phones or coffee, he's gold.

But "Ghostbusters" 2016 has some weaknesses. While it's definitely Feig's best technical work to date, it also has all of his failings as a filmmaker. I think Feig's biggest problem is that he loves to keep material in a movie that he shouldn't. His scenes tend to run a bit long, and even his individual shots. It doesn't always happen, but there are more than a few scenes that could use some trimming. Whether it's gags that fall flat or too much time between dialogue, this film just needs to be a little bit leaner.

Probably less avoidable are the occasionally limp special effects. Most of the movie looks fine, and the ghosts themselves are well-rendered. But, and this affects the climax most notably, things occasionally look flat and cheap when it counts the most. The dimensional vortex rescue, for example, is a great emotional moment between two characters that looks like exactly what it is: two comedy actresses suspended by wires in front of a green screen.

Still, despite these minor quibbles, "Ghostbusters" is a success. Funny and charming, with a couple truly knockout comedic performances, it's a great time at the movies. If you don't hate women or are mature enough to let someone else play in a sandbox you don't own, "Ghostbusters" is recommended summer fun.

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