An all-female team of Ghostbusters** had the internet fanboys in a sliming, ectoplasmic rage when the trailer hit. Quite why anybody cared so deeply to get that angry was always beyond me. I mean, the original movie was fun in a shabby-early-80s-blockbuster-kind of a way, but there really wasn’t much else to do back in those days.
Feminising the team seemed as good an idea for a 21st century re-boot as any, especially as it came from director Paul Feig who had such runaway success with the female cast of Bridesmaids. Indeed, two of that movie’s break-out stars are reunited here: Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a serious science academic dismissed from her prestigious post when it’s discovered she still believes in ghosts; while Melissa McCarthy is Abby, a blustery Professor of the Paranormal at a cash-strapped research institute, whose Dean responds to a request for more funding with: “I didn’t know your department still existed.”
Is it really such a sin to replace Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd with these two? Not at all, and actually their halting, talking-over-each-other style of banter is probably the best thing about the movie. They are joined by a science geek eccentric, Holtzman, played by the little-known (in the UK, at least) Kate McKinnon and a jive-talking subway attendant called Patty and played by Leslie Jones, both of whom are familiar to US viewers from the long-running cult comedy show Saturday Night Live, whence originally came Murray, Ackroyd et al.
So Feig is ostensibly preserving a comic heritage with his Ghostbusters and certainly the first half of the film has an enjoyable freshness to it. The women are invariably patronised by a succession of half-wit male characters, such as that Dean, the New York Mayor (Andy Garcia) and Charles Dance, who dismisses Erin – you can see some kind of theme emerging.
But the girls also hire a beefcake secretary, dimly played by Chris Hemsworth whose hitherto hidden gift for comedy ought to have remained that way while I couldn’t help thinking that, despite her correlation to Ernie Hudson in the original, the casting of the African-American Jones as the menial, wise-cracking, big Momma among the clever white ladies is racially insensitive to say the least.
In its own universe, this Ghostbusters doesn’t follow-on from the previous ones. Meta-textually, however, it is hobbled by them, lumbered with unfunny cameo appearances from Murray as a “famed debunker”, Ackroyd as a grumpy cabbie and Hudson as a funeral parlour director who loans out the hearse our girls use for their ghostbusting vehicle. Sigourney Weaver pops up too and it certainly isn’t her finest minute.
And then there’s the plot, which is simultaneously so ridiculous and illogical that is has to be painstakingly explained at every step just to make sure we’re still following. We’re not. All of this irons out the shoddy, baggy simplicity of the original in favour of a very modern, over-produced studio project, where even the improvised zingers feel precision-tooled by committee.
Nor are 30 years of advances in digital effects any improvement, merely leading to an over-extended and loud climax – de rigueur in all blockbusters these days – involving Times Square, dancing zombies and tiresome over-acting from performers not used to working with green screens while operating proton guns.
While it’s great for younger audiences to see ladies kicking spectral ass, with big guns, it’s nowhere near enough to sustain a movie, especially with a villain as dweeby as this (I thought geeks were supposed to be the heroes these days?).
I wanted to laugh and I wanted to like it but in the end I found it a total fun vacuum, a pile-up of slime and simpering half-gags with very little charm and an obnoxious, rotten rehash of the famous theme tune. Who you gonna call? Not me, thanks.