Walking out of the press screening for Ghostbusters I couldn’t help but feel that a lot of people were going to be gravely disappointed with how writer/director Paul Feig’s remake of the classic 1984 supernatural comedy turned out. And by “a lot of people”, I am specifically referring to that pitchfork and torch-wielding mob that was convinced this new take would be dragging their childhood out behind the shed to be put down with an estrogen-loaded shotgun.
Much of this aforementioned vitriol has been aimed at Feig’s decision to flip the script and have his modern spook wrangling squad be comprised of all ladies – specifically, the hilarious gals Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. Fortunately Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (as it’s now been fully titled to avoid confusion) refuses to play ball with the haters, as the four well-established comediennes are easily the film’s strongest selling point, each having their moment to shine (or in the case of McKinnon, weird everybody the hell out).
The biggest problem arises from a lack of script-flipping when it comes to the actual script though. Director Ivan Reitman’s original film, from the brilliant comedic minds of co-writers/co-stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, is a bonafide classic for a reason, boasting fantastic performances from its cast – including Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts, among others – hilarious gags, and just enough boo-shrieking horror to make it all work gangbusters in a endearingly quirky way. And Feig is clearly aware of this iconic stature as his and co-writer Kate Lippold’s screenplay mostly apes Aykroyd and Ramis’ narrative framework for most of the film, while just sprinkling some of their own flavour on top of it. And while this often works in the moment to laugh-out-loud results, the bigger picture does smack of a lack of creative risk-taking.
If you’ve seen the original – and if not, then our friendship has been built on a lie – then you pretty much know how this thing plays out: Promising physicist Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) has fought hard to ditch the crackpot image she once had thanks to the research into the paranormal she conducted with now-estranged childhood friend Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy). But when Abby and new partner in scientific crime, kooky engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) drags Erin along to investigate a supposed haunting only for it to turn out to be grossly real, Erin decides to ditch stuffy academia and rekindle her paranormal passion. Together with streetwise New York City history buff and haunting victim turned cohort Patty (Jones), the ladies hit the streets to find out exactly who or what is suddenly causing all these ghouls to creep out the Big Apple.
The story is awfully familiar with just socially creepy villain Rowan’s (Neil Casey) master plan changing things up a bit, but the film makes sure to hit all the famous landmarks of the original – Ecto-1, Slimer, the firehouse, the Stay Puft marshmallow man etc – even if it’s just a not-always-so-sly-as-they-think wink at audiences in the know. In fact, some of these in-jokes, in particular cameos from the original Ghostbusters actors (sadly, minus the late Ramis, though eagle-eyed viewers will still spot a tribute to him) feel clumsily wedged into the script and more will than likely leave franchise newcomers scratching their heads as to their inclusion.
But luckily Feig has built a career out of showcasing funny women, and for the most part his actresses come up tops, making this look easy. Their personalities are suitably different and likeable that audiences should find something to love: from bookish Erin, to scatterbrained Abby, to tough Patty and… Well, then there’s Holtzmann.
Kate McKinnon’s scientific gobbledygook-spewing engineer, complete with an Egon-esque coif and awkward posturing, is just a whirlwind of weirdness. While the others all have some form of character arc (as subtle as it may be at times), she’s resigned to be the film’s personified cartoon, producing prop gags and non-sequiturs at the drop of a floppy costume hat. Some reviewers are loving all the kooky energy she brings to the role, but I’m undecided. It sometimes works to hilarious effect, but other times it pulls you out of the experience as she is very much a Character In A Comedy instead of a person.
The same could be said of Chris Hemsworth’s almost impossibly dimwitted himbo receptionist Kevin, whose IQ must be dwelling in the subterranean. At least he has a human puppy-like charm to his stupidity that should enamor audiences easier. Being Chris Hemsworth also probably doesn’t hurt.
But even with it’s shortcomings, when Feig and Lippold’s script gives the cast the correct comedic tools to work with, it works brilliantly, producing several serious gut-busting moments of hilarity, and just infusing the whole venture with an overall sense of popcorn munching fun. Feig also adds a few more ticks in the plus column by producing one good looking film. The ghoulish visual effects, as well as the Ghostbusters’ ghost-busting tech, all look top notch and are actually enhanced through some really good use of 3D.
All in all, does Ghostbusters: Answer the Call match the lofty cult status heights of the 1980’s original? The answer is a very definitive no, as it’s too concerned with throwbacks and do-overs to truly carve out its own place. But when it comes to answering the question of who you gonna call for a fun and bubbly bit of lightweight entertainment that will leave you shaking with laughter often, then despite what some folks who had never even seen the movie would you believe, this is a solid answer. And that makes me feel good enough.
PS: Yes, there’s a post-credits scene, but unless you’re a fan of the original you probably won’t catch its significance.
Last Updated: July 20, 2016