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Front Page - Friday, July 22, 2016

‘Ghostbusters’ reboot a vaporous mist

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad


That was the word that popped into my head after I saw the “Ghostbusters” remake. It’s not terrible. It’s not great. It just doesn’t matter.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments – or its merits – because it does. But too much of it is just “OK.”

What works? Chris “Thor the Avenger” Hemsworth, who stepped into the receptionist role played by Annie “We got one!” Potts in the original film. I laughed at nearly everything Hemsworth said and did as perhaps the dumbest character to ever grace the silver screen. I tell everyone who will listen about the saxophone gag. Hilarious.

I also liked Neil Casey as Rowan North, a nerdy sort who begins planting devices that enhance paranormal activity in an attempt to bring about the apocalypse. “The dead will rise to pester the living!” he says with the campy savor-faire of an old Hammer Films villain. “That doesn’t seem too bad,” one of the Ghostbusters says. I laughed at that, too.

Parts of the script work, too. Co-written and directed by Paul “Bridesmaids” Feig, “Ghostbusters” is anchored in the friendship of Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who once investigated paranormal phenomenon together, but had a falling out when Gilbert went legit to teach at Columbia University. Gilbert visits Yates to ask her former friend to stop selling an old book about the supernatural they co-authored, as she’s up for tenure, and she doesn’t want anyone finding out about her previous publication.

Gilbert and Yates go on a ghost hunt instead, and see one of the specters North summoned. Before you can say, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” they’re teaming up with physics genius Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to capture the increasing number of spooks people are seeing throughout New York City. MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) joins the party after she sees one in a subway and goes to the Ghostbusters for help.

The best thing about the script is how it’s grounded in the relationship between Gilbert and Yates. Their reputations and livelihood are at stake as they launch their ghost-catching business, and for much of the film, things don’t go their way.

I also liked some of the ghostly bits. A scene set in an old mansion-turned-museum channels the look and feel of the original “Ghostbusters” film, which conjured a smile on my face. Then Feig goes for something original in a scene in which a gargoyle-like demon wreaks havoc at a heavy metal concert, and the audience thinks it’s part of the show. That was fun.

But, as I wrote, much of the film falls short, including the bulk of the performances. For most of the film, McCarthy treads dangerously close to playing things straight, and when she does break out her inner comedian, she threatens to go off the rails with her improv shtick. Her performance is sincere, but she never finds a groove. McKinnon is getting mixed reviews for her performance as the very odd Holtzmann, with one critic calling her acting “nuanced and inspired.” I just thought she acted weird without rhyme or reason.

I enjoyed watching Wiig and Jones, but like the other ladies, the shadow of the original “Ghostbusters” looms over them, and they never step out of it to create the kind of memorable characters Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Rick Moranis fashioned for the first film.

The script for the new film also lacks the punch of the original movie. Years from now, I don’t think anyone is going to be saying, “That’s a deadly high five,” like they do, “He slimed me.”

The 2016 “Ghostbusters” can’t escape being compared to the 1984 “Ghostbusters.” The original film was pure lightning-in-a-bottle magic, and if you’re going to remake something, you should improve on it. But while the special effects are better (for obvious reasons), nothing else is.

Perhaps Feig and company felt hampered by an obligation to pay homage to the original film. Instead of creating an entirely unique story, they mirror the classic “Ghostbusters” almost beat for beat, and included countless references to the first movie. But all that does is make people think about how mediocre the new film is.

Everyone involved in the production of the new “Ghostbusters” was under tremendous pressure to live up to the legacy of the original movie. And the film struggles, possibly as a result of that impediment. Maybe this talented group of performers and filmmakers simply had to get that out of their system, and would now be able to relax and do something original if Columbia Pictures gave them the opportunity to make another one. I would look forward to that movie. As average as the 2016 “Ghostbusters” is, I ain’t afraid of no sequel!