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Not As Pale As Expected: Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters

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By Elias Savada.

Yes, there has been a lot of discussion – some quite vocal and inanely misogynistic – about the new Ghostbusters, an all-female cast reboot of the endearing 1984 film classic that spawned an animated television series, some video games, and an unending (and quite fascinating) trivia entry on IMDB. While some fanboys of the original have been childish about their pre-release perceptions of the new film from Paul Feig, dragging it down after seeing just a trailer or two, they do score some points now that the film has arrived.

It channels the original without rising above it. Then again, Ghostbusters 1984 is a very hard act to follow. Been there, done that, but let’s tweak it ever so slightly.

No, it’s not a ransacking-of-Rome moment in comedy movie history, but there’s a sadness that the new version is overburdened with special effects (some of PG-13 violence might be terrifying for the very young in the audience) and underwhelming in the originality provided by the writing department. Instead, the comedy relies heavily on the maniacal talents of its very capable cast. Broadly borrowing from the 1984 film’s script by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, Feig and Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation, The Heat) take a low-brow approach to the screenplay and apparently just let the gals do their widely accepted improv. The hearse, the costumes, the fire house (well, briefly), the plot structure all return with their iconic familiarity. There are also cameos from the main players that made the original such a classic, including the Marshmallow Man and Slimer. Bill Murray has an extended role here as a nay-sayer, the late Harold Ramis appears as metal head art, and Dan Aykroyd tosses three groan-inducing lines from behind the steering wheel of a cab. Rick Moranis and William Atherton seem to be MIA.

The writers put a lot of cute thought into the origins of the name and the logo (yes, that’s back, too). Feig and company (that being Sony Pictures) have placed the franchise in the very capable hands of four comediennes who take on a frightened New York City as it totters on the edge of apocalyptic doom. Melissa McCarthy, having been the director’s muse in three big hits (Bridesmaids, The Heat, and The Spy), plays Abby, a kooky nerd in a science lab investigating the paranormal. Her eccentric partner is Jillian, entertainingly sampled from a frantic, finger-in-the-electrical-outlet Q from the Bond films. SNL’s Kate McKinnon is hilariously off-the-wall here, magically creating new ghost-fighting hardware from thin script air. These untested and most definitely not UL-approved gizmos seemingly would take a company the size of Stark Industries to create in the Marvel universe. But this is the Ghostbusters world, and logic be damned.

There’s also Erin (Kristen Wiig) as a timid, almost tenured scientist-professor who gets tossed from her teaching position courtesy of a long-buried, now-resurrected volume on ghosts, etc., that she co-wrote with Abby. The quartet is rounded out by Leslie Jones, a resourceful transit worker who provides the strong-willed, no-nonsense character we’ve seen her enlighten audiences on Saturday Night Live.

And Thor, I mean Chris Hemsworth, brings his brawn (but not his brains) to his funny stint as the group’s absent-minded male secretary. The ogle-worthy Australian more than makes up for having starred in this year’s dreadful The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Silicon Valley‘s nebbishy Zach Woods plays a nebbishy tour guide, and Andy Garcia appears briefly as the Big Apple’s unbelieving mayor. And comedian Neil Casey, one of the writers for Inside Amy Schumer and a former SNL contributor, gets a major upgrade in fame status, playing the mastermind in the film’s lame-brain plan to unleash the ghostly forces of evil.

The 30-plus year upgrade has absorbed all the changes in our now more electronic world. The library card catalog that was featured at the start of the 1984 film has been replaced by a haunted mansion. Cell phones and video cams (especially those made by Sony) are abundant, so they get screen time. Yes, product placements abound. Gotta do those tie-ins for marketing purposes.

Michigan-born actor turned director-writer-producer Feig is the go-to woman’s director these days. People realized that when Bridesmaids became widely popular and the funniest film released in 2011. I don’t feel the same lightning in his current affair. Already blessed with a massive awareness factor, Ghostbusters, on track to be one of this year’s more successful live-action comedies, follows unsurprising story lines. Instead of the massive quantities of CGI ghosts flying about the New York City skyline, I realized who the filmmakers should have called, Ghostwriters.

Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).

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