Ghostbusters (2016)

Melissa McCarthy used to be funny.

No, seriously.  I mean it.

I first saw her in The Nines, where she plays multiple parts (including herself) with a great deal of charm and impish humor – and yes, a touch of sarcasm.  She comes across as someone you’d like in real life – and it isn’t hard to imagine her married to Ryan Reynolds.

And then I saw her in some cop movie with Sandra Bullock.

What happened?

Somehow, she seems to have become typecast as this shrill, angry and abusive person – which, once again, she is playing here.  I found myself thinking, somewhere near the end, that if this film had been made, say, back in the Thirties, then there would be feminists falling all over the place condemning it as chauvinistic.  Isn’t that the standard male stereotype of the nag (and particularly, the nagging wife)?

This all seems a very by-the-numbers Hollywood production, aside from the novelty casting of an all-female team of Ghostbusters.  Which, when you think about it is, basically, by-the-numbers today.  After all, we have to have some such stunt to convince people that there is SOME reason for remaking a classic film.

There is also a sort of desperate failure to understand what made the original a classic.  What, they got laughs from sliming people?  Let’s give them MORE slime!  Lots of effects in the original?  We can throw in even MORE.

The truth is that the original almost seems an accident.  Virtually every other Ivan Reitman film is so-so at best.  Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis wrote a lot of scripts, but only a few of them were as good.  Bill Murray gave one of his more inspired performances, and then there’s the incredible supporting cast.

And let’s face it, they got lucky when they couldn’t get Eddie Murphy.  They needed Ernie Hudson’s low key performance to play against – and just imagine Winston Zedimore  with that donkey bray of a laugh!

It was like lightning striking.

So what do we get instead?  a writer’s workshop level exercise in building characters by giving them a backstory and a character arc.  A weird character who is weird because she’s the official eccentric character.  A nudge-nudge, wink-wink tour of the world of the original film, complete with Fire Station, Cadillac, Columbia University and other favorite locations, and, naturally, a few cameos from the original cast.

And, of course, when the cab pulls up to the corner, it isn’t a rotting corpse at the wheel, but a very ancient Dan Ackroyd (I’m trying to resist the urge to note that that isn’t much of a difference).

And then there’s one serious failure:  once again we get a lot of supposedly scientific chatter about the physics of ghostbusting, but this time it just seems like what it is:  scientific mumbo jumbo.  Where the original played off the deadly serious Egon against the little-kid enthusiasm of the almost as knowledgeable Ray  – and then let us see it through the cynical eyes of Venckman, here we have three, apparently equally well versed characters spouting technobabble, with no real sense that any of them believe it – or that it means much of anything at all.

In fact, about the only thing that really stands out about it all was the curious choice on the DVD to have the proton streams escaping from the letterboxed image and crossing the black gutters.

In the end, most of the humor falls flat – particularly the whole “cool gadgets that do goofy things” schtick.

Instead one keeps thinking that if they’d thrown out all the trappings of the original and made a ghost-hunting scientists comedy with half the budget, it might all have worked out far better.

Or, even better, why not do a major restoration of the original and put THAT in the theaters?

Heck, you could even up-convert it to 3-D, if you had to.

 

 

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