A film review by Craig J. Koban July 22, 2016


2016, PG-13, 116 mins.


Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates  /  Kristen Wiig as Erin Gilbert  /  Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann  /  Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan  /  Chris Hemsworth as Kevin  /  Neil Casey as Rowan North  /  Zach Woods as Tour Guide

Directed by Paul Feig  /  Written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold


I can’t think of another cinematic reboot that has generated as much pre-release discussion, debate, bickering, and controversy as much as GHOSTBUSTERS, which is – unless you’ve been living under a rock – a retooled version of the iconic and cherished Ivan Reitman 1984 original of the same name.  A more straightforward sequel to 1989’s maligned franchise installment GHOSTBUSTERS 2 has been a frustrating on-again/off-again affair for decades, which eventually led to Sony Pictures exercising their option to re-imagine their once lucrative horror-comedy series…with a new female cast leading the charge. 

With that latter bit of news…the Internet went…for lack of a better word…bonkers. 

Remakes and reboots should hardly surprise, nor offend, anyone these days.  Yes, I’ve never been staunchly in favor of them (they represent the highest echelon of intellectual, artistic, and creative laziness in the movie world), but I’m not so uptight and snobby to say there haven’t been examples that I’ve appreciate and/or admired (like the more recent MAN OF STEEL and LET ME IN, as well as earlier examples like OCEAN’S ELEVEN and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE; even older ones like THE FLY and THE THING prove that they can even be better than their predecessors).  I think remakes work when (a) they pay faithful homage to their antecedents and (b) they take the established mythology of their antecedents and unleash it in a refreshingly novel and innovative direction for modern day audiences and consumption.  The new GHOSTBUSTERS is a large success on the first level (even though it’s often too faithful, at least to its own detriment) and on the second level…it’s kind of a disappointing failure.  Ultimately, the cast of this reboot – regardless of gender – is the least of GHOSTBUSTERS’ issues.



For the most part, this iteration of GHOSTBUSTERS ostensibly – and sometimes distractingly – takes the overall blueprint of the 1984 original and uses it as a creative guide.  There are an awful lot of nods and odes to the classic film – some discrete and welcome, others being downright unnecessary – which will have many die hard series fans feeling paradoxically appreciative and flabbergasted.  On a positive, this GHOSTBUSTERS (directed by Paul Feig of BRIDESMAIDS fame, written by him and Katie Dippold) displays ample fun in exploring the new origins of its supernatural exterminators and certainly coasts by on the terrific and ample chemistry of its main stars, who were all collectively – and extremely unfairly – chastised by rabidly misogynistic Internet trolls that never saw a frame of the film before callously lashing out at their casting.  If anything, this new GHOSTBUSTERS keeps its head largely above water because of the inherent charms of its stars.  They’re the primary source of spontaneous and frequently amusing energy when Feig’s comatose and sterile direction and wobbly scripting regrettably bogs the film down. 

Kristen Wiig plays Erin, a college professor desperately trying to shed herself away from a past career as a paranormal investigator, but when her old BFF and colleague Abby (frequent Feig film collaborator Melissa McCarthy) shows up with a kooky and brilliant engineer, Jillian (Kate McKinnon), the trio discovers actual and quantifiable proof of the existence of ghosts.  This, of course, forces Wiig to revisits her stance on the otherworldly.  Much like their male scientific counterparts from thirty-plus years ago, the women decide to start their own “Ghostbusting” business, which unavoidably leads to them crossing paths with the creepily deranged Rowan (Neil Casey), who has a nefarious plan (although never fully explained) of unleashing as many ghosts as possible on the world, thus signaling the beginning of a spooky apocalypse.  

Who ya gonna call? 

Again, and rather ironically, it’s the cast of GHOSTBUSTERS that sort of saves it from the otherwise middling handling of story particulars and world building.  Kristen Wiig is one of the shrewdest savviest comic minds working today and she really makes Erin uniquely her own with her brand of quirky indecision and bumbling charisma.  Melissa McCarthy, rather thankfully, reigns in her typical performance histrionics and plays Abby with a relative straight-laced appeal.  Leslie Jones (like her two co-stars, also from SNL) appears as a tough talking and streetwise New Yorker than joins the team, and despite the fact that she's fairly inspired and winning as a performer, her role seems regressively stereotypical (why can’t the African America character also be a scientist?).  Kate McKinnon may be the best and worst thing in the film, seeing as she has the face and presence of a bona fide movie star and can certainly carry her own in the laughs department, but Jillian is so broad, over the top, and cartoonishly rendered at times that she feels like she walked off of the set of another film altogether.  McKinnon’s irritating camera mugging becomes overbearing at times. 

Actually, some of the best laughs of the film don’t even come from the headliners, but rather from their co-star Chris Hemsworth, who plays one of the doppiest receptionists – male or female – in movie history in Kevin, a manchild/himbo so incomparably absent minded that he doesn’t even know how to answer the phone – in one instance – when it’s ringing right in front of him.  For as much as I appreciated the cast for trying to deliver sustained laughs in GHOSTBUSTERS, it unfortunately made me reflect on one thing that’s ultimately wrong with this reboot – it’s tonal approach.  The original GHOSTBUSTERS was side-splitteningly funny because stars like Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd were masterful deadpan actors.  They felt like they were inhabiting authentically rendered characters that were not designed to be joke machines.  In this GHOSTBUSTERS everyone involved seems to be aggressively going after laughs, which has the negative side effect of making the resulting film come off as more dutifully manufactured than nuanced and genuine.  

This GHOSTBUSTERS antagonist is a monumental letdown, seeing as Rowan is never developed beyond one note/ insane villain cookie cutter archetypes.  He rarely comes off as threatening or scary.  And speaking of scares...where are they in this GHOSTBUSTERS?  The original film married well-earned chuckles with frightening imagery with a painstaking precision…and you worried about the plight of the heroes and their city.  You never once feel like these new Ghostbusters are in any sort of tangible danger, nor are any predicaments they find themselves in hair raisingly nerve wracking.  And yes, the new GHOSTBUSTERS benefits from modern day computer generated whizbangery in envisioning the ghosts that the ladies battle through, but Feig and company confuse quantity with quality.  Much like the film that preceded it, GHOSTBUSTERS builds towards a climax pitting the heroes versus a larger-than-life entity, but it all comes off more as a spiffy VFX demo reel than a consummately engineered and intensely rousing standoff between a highly determined and scared-out-of-their-minds team and a dangerously unstable and dangerous spectral foe.  

Part of the problem may be Feig, who's simply not a filmmaker with a confident affinity for staging and delivering action; most of his overall framing of scenes – even the quieter ones – are flat and lifeless (even though GHOSTBUSTERS contains, for my money, some of the best usage of 3D I’ve seen in any film, especially when it comes to delineating background and foreground space within the frame).  Then there’s the level of beyond obvious fan servicing in the film, which, to be fair, is somewhat important, but the manner that this GHOSTBUSTERS goes out of its way to include some mightily distracting call backs/cameos from the 1984 film’s stars proves to be its undoing at times.  Reboots should pay respect to their sources of inspiration, but they also shouldn’t go out of their way – as this one does – to instantly take viewers out of the moment of their stories and make them reflect on what came before.  This GHOSTBUSTERS tries way, way too hard to remind viewers that there was indeed another GHOSTBUSTERS before it…and that’s a big conceptual error in judgment. 

There are other nods too, like the Ecto-1 vehicle making a triumphant return (welcome) as well as shout-outs to the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man and one rather hungry and slimy green hued ghost (not quite so welcome) and a cover of Ray Parker Jr.'s immortal theme song (not welcome…at…all).  GHOSTBUSTERS wants to have its cake and eat it too.  Perhaps no one – not Sony Executives, not the film’s cast, not Paul Feig, and, hell, not even the Internet trolls – bothered to ask two simple questions: Should anyone remake one of the most seminal films of the 1980’s, if not of all time?  Is it really worthy of all of the unnecessary baggage that such an endeavor brings?  The short answers are…no and no.  This GHOSTBUSTERS is not a vile act of desecration of the ’84 film (thinking that is nonsensically hyperbolic).  This is a modestly funny remake at times and has a spirited and committed cast that works well off of one another.  But it does so very little with the Ghostbusters mythology in terms of joyously and innovatively expanding upon it.   It’s a work that never makes a compelling case for its existence…beyond being an easy cash grab vehicle for its studio.  

Mournfully, none of the players involved understood one valuable lesson in regards to reboots: when it comes to remaking classics, don’t cross the streams…or…simply don’t bother in the first place. 




  H O M E