Monday, October 24, 2016

Ghostbusters 2016

I finally got around to seeing the recent Ghostbusters movie, since it came up at the Redbox. Some thoughts.

(1) It's not as thunderingly awful as one would have expected from the trailer. But it's also not great. It's like an OK TV movie, the kind you can bear to watch, but usually while you're doing something else more interesting.

(2) For one thing, it's not very consistently funny. It does have its moments, but they are just moments. This is, as a lot of people have said, a problem for a reboot of one of the great movie comedies of all time. Most people seem to be a bit off, which is probably the biggest contrast between it and the original -- in the original no one, even bit parts, is really off. I re-watched it recently and there is a great scene in the hotel after they have fired on the maid's cart. After they apologize and turn around to discuss what to do, you can see the maid in the background trying to put out a toilet-paper fire with a spray bottle. It's the sort of thing you could easily miss -- entirely in the background, nothing in the scene is focused on it, but when you catch it, the poor maid (played by Frances Nealy) trying to spritz the fire out, in context it is hilarious. That wasn't just comedy; it was craftsmanship. There's not really anything like that here. But the real issue is that the main characters just don't seem to fit together well. They all have moments, but the attempts to play off each other are generally quite lame. Individually, they also struggle -- Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann is the kind of character that might have been funnier in a different kind of movie, Kristin Wiig's Erin is largely just awkward, and Melissa McCarthy's Abby is like a Melissa McCarthy character. Of the women, Leslie Jones's Patty ends up being funniest, but the fact of the matter is that Chris Hemsworth's Kevin steals practically every single scene he's in, despite the fact that the kind of comedy he's doing here is really minor-level stuff that should be funny background.

(3) No movie that has this many call-backs and shout-outs to the original should be a reboot. It literally makes no sense whatsoever to do a straight reboot and bring in all of these cameos and references. If you can get Murray, Aykroyd, Weaver, Potts, and Hudson, it's going to raise the question of why you couldn't have just tied the original in from the beginning. And if you build so much on the previous movie, you lose all right to ask audiences to take the movie on its own merits -- it will necessarily be compared, at every point, to the original. Which, again, is an unusually high standard here.

(4) The movie kind of works if you think of it as a kind of alternate-universe version. But only 'kind of'. There's not actually much story here. It looks originally like we're going to get a healing-of-friendship motif in the Erin and Abby characters -- but after the beginning it's not really built up. It ends up being a sort of self-esteem story about outsiders. That's OK, I suppose.

But, as has been noted through the years, the original was layers and layers of story. Aykroyd had insisted that at no point should the ghostly or paranormal itself be mocked, so you can watch it as a ghost story in which the humor is about human beings unable to deal with things so far outside our normal experience; and we have the excellent scene between Ray and Winston as they are just driving around and talking. It can be watched as a buddy film, which it certainly is. As other people have noted, it's a workplace comedy that is also one of the best movies ever made about starting a business -- the actual villain is not any of the ghosts (even Gozer), it's the over-reaching bureaucrat trying to shut down a struggling business on a dubious technicality, and some of the funniest lines in the whole thing have nothing to do with the ghosts but with the workplace. (Think of Janine's "I've quit better jobs than this" or Winston's "Ah, if there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say" or Ray mortgaging his parents' house.)

Throughout this one, however, you get parts that could have been taken somewhere and never are, and it gets somewhat tiring.

(5) One thing that the movie had me thinking about was how movie comedy has changed. Contemporary comedy in movies seems to be built more on awkward moments than carefully constructed jokes or even improvised hilarity. I think this is seen here, and the movie suffers for it. The blunder comedy works very well -- the majority of the genuinely funny moments in this film are blunder comedy. But the repartee is often awful as written and weak as delivered, and the actual jokes are usually more groan-inducing than chuckle-inducing. This kind of thing can be made to work -- it's a staple of comedies geared to teens -- but the whole movie seems structured in a way that is inconsistent with actually making it work. The result is mostly just corny and flat.

(6) The special effects here are not all that good -- which is really disappointing, because that's usually the one thing that is guaranteed to be quality in movies today. The original special effects are much better, which is a devastating indictment given that they were done over twenty years ago. Subpar CGI is not an improvement.

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