BY TERRI SCHWARTZ
There's a lot of negativity stacked against Ghostbusters, a remake/reboot of the beloved franchise starring four women -- Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones -- instead of the four men that fans have become accustomed to. Like it's hard to walk into the film unbiased by the previous films it takes its name from, it's hard to walk into Ghostbusters unaffected by the fact so many people decided to hate this movie on premise alone.
I wanted to love this new Ghostbusters, but unfortunately it is just fine, though not for the reasons many would expect. The Ghostbusters themselves are great; Wiig and McCarthy ground the film with a great friendship and the chemistry they established during their previous work with Feig together, each taking on a different sort of role than what they've become known for in their other comedy work. Jones is also fantastic, being the layman who blends so well with the other three scientists on her team and nailing her jokes every time.
Even McKinnon, who wasn't as much of a scene-stealer as was expected after becoming immediately memeable from Ghostbusters' trailers, brings something different to a movie that hews in many ways back to the 1984 original. You can't help but root for these four, who are just trying to use hard science to prove the paranormal exists and make New York City a safer place. They're the heart of Ghostbusters, and in many ways they're the thing that keeps it chugging along.
Ghostbusters, written by Feig and Katie Dippold, largely follows the structure of Ivan Reitman's first film. Wiig's Abby Yates and McCarthy's Erin Gilbert are former friends and paranormal investigators who are brought back together after a rift in their friendship when, with Erin's new nuclear engineer pal Jillian Holtzman (McKinnon), they encounter their first ghost. As more and more malevolent entities start popping up in New York, they perfect their equipment and gain a new ally (Jones's Patty Tolan) and discover someone is trying to summon the ghosts to bring about a paranormal apocalypse.
The plot is nothing new, but also largely works. It's the friendship between the four Ghostbusters that keeps the film moving along, and though there are rifts that pull them apart, you always feel like they're on the same team. The story offers a new mythology for the ghost girls and it's fun seeing them work together. When they finally do come in to save the day, their journey to that point feels earned.
Unfortunately, it's the pacing and editing that is the biggest problem with the movie. Ghostbusters is a comedy first, and for all that haters blasted the movie for starring four women, it's actually director Paul Feig who doesn't seem like he's the right fit for the series. In terms of Feig's brand of comedy, Ghostbusters is more Spy than Bridesmaids, but his humor never quite jibes appropriately with the tone of the film. It doesn't help that the pacing undercuts what could have otherwise been strong moments. Reveals meant to be impactful, like Abby's explanation of why she was called "ghost girl," aren't given the set up they need and are later relied on too heavily. It's clear this script and final cut went through multiple revisions, but could have still used another pass to create a more cohesive product.
McKinnon's character Holtzmann is the biggest example of this. It's clear from the immediate reactions online to her nutso take on the nuclear engineer that people were excited for the comedy she was performing. But almost all of her scenes don't land properly, both because the movie doesn't make time for McKinnon to do her thing and also because this gimmick feels like it's meant for a different movie.
There was a cohesion lacking across the board with the pacing, with long lulls without big comedy moments and a movie that felt long in its 116-minute running time. It's a shame, too, because much of the movie works on paper. The ongoing gag that repeatedly worked was Chris Hemsworth's character Kevin, their secretary who is sweet but dumb as bricks. Hemsworth commits to Kevin's idiocy and knows how to play perfectly off of the four leads, but even that joke doesn't work as well by the end of the movie.
Ghostbusters can't decide whether it wants to be a completely new take on the property or a loving homage to the original, and because of that it's trapped between the two. As much as Feig and Dippold remix the formula, there are too many callbacks to the original, from the cameos (only one or two of which actually work) to the catchphrases to the iconic songs to even the new film's version of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. But when Ghostbusters is doing its own riffs on these elements anyway, the film becomes burdened by the ghosts of its past.
It's frankly disappointing that the new Ghostbusters movie doesn't work as well as it had the potential to. The film is conscious of the criticisms and vitriol that has already been leveled against it and that is steeped into its DNA, all the way to the mid-credits ending. I wanted this to be a movie as worthy as a cult following as the film on which it's based, but for all that does work about Ghostbusters -- and, again, it's the leads that carry it as much as they can -- there's plenty that holds it back from being great.
The new Ghostbusters is a fresh take on the franchise, with four strong leads and an interesting new entrypoint into the series. The problems with the film come down to the movie itself, as the pacing and editing don't hold up what otherwise could have been a sharp, quick-witted reentry into a world fans hold dear. It doesn't help that this new Ghostbusters tries too hard to pay homage to the previous Ghostbusters movies instead of fully standing on its own. While there is plenty to enjoy about Paul Feig's new comedy, it's not going to be enough to stick it to the haters who spewed vitriol against the all-lady Ghostbusters on premise alone.
Ghostbusters Releases July 15, 2016