It’s not fair for me to label the new Ghostbusters reboot a disappointment, since I wasn’t going in with particularly high expectations. But it does feel like something of a missed opportunity. I was hoping, but not anticipating, the film might raise the bar for reboots/remakes, capitalizing on an idea that Steven Soderbergh proposed and, instead of remaking great classics, remake the films that had a great idea but were poorly executed, and turn them into something great. The original Ghostbusters has its fun and funny moments and is just too weird not to be a little endearing, but it’s hardly what you’d call “great” or “a classic.” This new reboot could have capitalized on the original’s potential and ended up a thrilling action/supernatural comedy, while simultaneously refuting the originals uncomfortable sexism by handing the leading roles to women and scoring some feminist points for the mainstream movie world. It doesn’t, it’s merely passable, at least when it comes to the first part. As has become par for the course for director/co-writer Paul Feig, it’s a lovingly, defiantly feminist film, but Feig’s touch also means the movie fails as, well, a movie.
Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is up for tenure at Columbia University when she finds that her old research partner, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), has republished their book on the paranormal (hilariously titled “Ghosts from the Past: Both Literally and Figuratively”) and trying to distance herself from her previous less-than-reputable research, visits Abby to try to get her to take the book out of print. From there, she gets roped back into the world of Abby’s ghost research, along with engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon). On one of their ghost hunts, they meet MTA officer, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who can aid in navigating New York and provide transportation and so the Ghostbusters are formed and save New York from a paranormal apocalypse.
That sounds like a pretty simple, standard, easy to execute plot, but as written and paced by Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold, it’s completely scattershot and feels like a string of stuff that’s just happening. Scenes bleed into each other and transition from one the next with no apparent logic or structure and the movie never really gels. It feels ephemeral, like there’s no cohesive idea or purpose behind it. And while that’s not entirely important, it still would have been nice to have a narrative backbone to give some discipline and structure to a film that feels like an ADD dog in a squirrel park. It’s like Dippold and Feig just read “Screenwriting for Dummies,” watched the original several times, along with a few other modern blockbusters and comedies, and wrote in each plot beat and scene out of obligation and commercial incentive, rather than out of any creative inspiration: “The story goes this way because it has to, not because it feels right artistically.” It might not matter, since all that does matter is if the movie is funny and thrilling, and it is at times, but not nearly as often as it could and should be. It provides some intermittent chuckles and guffaws, but much of the comedy is awkward and forced.
And this is entirely due to Feig. I cannot figure out for the life of me how he has become one the major modern comedy directors. He represents the apex of what is wrong in contemporary commercial comedies, the exemplar of the laziness that has infested studio filmmaking and direction. It’s generous to even call him a director, since it appears that he does little more on his films than point the camera at the actors and say “Action!” He isn’t a director who directs, but rather just a dude who shows up and lets the actors take over. His framing and editing are dull and merely illustrate the script, his sound design only functional and his music is nothing more than background noise to avoid uncomfortable silence.
While aggravatingly uninspiring, this style was at least easy to overlook in some of his earlier films such as Bridesmaids and Spy. Feig’s films end up fine when he has a decent script to work off of and funny actors at his disposal. But here he has only one of those elements, and he wastes it. As stated above the script is lackluster, like something a first year film school student hobbled together the night before it was due while still hungover. Its problems aren’t just macro, but micro also. Dialogue is clichéd and silly, most – but not all – jokes are obvious and telegraphed, and characterization is inconsistent.
The only thing left to save this movie is the usually hilarious cast, but Feig doesn’t seem to know how to handle them, surprising seeing as he’s had such success with Wiig and McCarthy in the past, both of whom seeming to act and improv on autopilot. Jones gets little more to do than scream comically and while McKinnon is being touted by many as the scene-stealing breakout, she fails to be so, simply because she seems designed to be so. I get the sense that those that are praising her are recognizing and reacting more to what McKinnon is going for with her performance, rather than what she actually accomplishes with it. She’s set up as the weirdo of the group and she goes for broke with that role, chewing the scenery like nobody’s business, and instead of being a laugh riot, besides a few jokes here or there, I found her performance cringe-worthy and little more than an over-acted big screen version of all the oddballs she plays on Saturday Night Live. Again, none of this is the fault of these very talented women, it’s their director’s. Even the best performers and actors cannot overcome a director’s lack of imagination, and Feig sets his cast up for failure, directing them to awkwardly delivered lines and editing said lines together with poor timing. And as they say, comedy is all about timing.
I make it sound terrible but it’s not. Ghostbusters is just too lacking in talent for its own good. It really is wonderful to see four women saving the world together without the help of, and actually in spite of, men. It’s got some things it does better than the original; it’s more consistently funny and has a more energetic and lively feel. But oddly enough Ghostbusters achieves one of its goals in a way that’s funnier than anything in the actual movie. It shows that men and women are capable of making and leading an equally mediocre and unimpressive films based off the same premise. How’s that for gender equality?