Review: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

In the golden age of idea recycling, the most remarkable thing about a trip back to the GHOSTBUSTERS well is how long it’s taken to get here.  But 27 years since their last big screen appearance, here we are – and in the reliable hands of Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS, THE HEAT, SPY), no less.

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out up front that this is a bona fide reboot/origin story, rather than a tenuous sequel: feel free to keep your eyes peeled for cameos from nearly all of the major players from the original (Harold Ramis included), but don’t expect to see Venkman, Stantz, Spengler or Zeddmore pop up any time soon. In their stead, the soon to be Busters are now made up of Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a physicist in denial of her paranormal past - in particular a book she wrote with estranged best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), which has now resurfaced on Amazon just as Erin is seeking tenure with a prestigious University. Abby though, still very much dedicated to the spook hunting cause, is these days kicking around with new lab partner/nuclear engineer/general oddball Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). After a terrific opening sequence (largely courtesy of Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods and his wonderfully unique comedy chops), the three are called on to investigate one of New York’s haunted mansions, and history is made. And speaking of history, the trio will soon become a quartet when joined by NY subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who brings indispensable knowledge of the city’s geography and past.

Perhaps because so much has changed since the franchise was last on the big screen, Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold eschew all but the largest story beats to make way for new angles, details, characters and jokes. There is now a human villain – a palid, pasty nutter genius who’s been bullied way past breaking point (Neil Casey), but has, ahem, confused rights with privilege, and has now hatched a mad, self-aggrandising scheme. Of course the Environmental Protection Agency are no longer the (opaque) secondary bad guys – that mantle is now taken up by an array of online haters (meta, much?), and a mayor (Andy Garcia) who wants them to keep doing their fine work without getting any credit whatsoever. One of the film’s most interesting new ideas is how difficult it is to get to the truth in today’s world – from crazed internet trolls and suggestions of fabrication-by-photoshop on one hand, to a cover-up happy government keen to avoid mass hysteria on the other; in the jaded age of unchecked internet bullshit and professionally spun PR, it’s just become so hard for the real deal to get through.

What Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS has over Ivan Reitman’s original, is superior production value. Not only do the ghosts themselves look as amazing today (in their own way) as they did to the audiences of 1984, but there’s a slickness and attention to detail overall in this version that Ivan Reitman either didn’t have the budget for or simply wasn’t too concerned with. And 3D is well deployed, too, with Feig utilising a literal framing device (not seen since LIFE OF PI) for an extra bit of fun.

But while Feig and Dippold get a lot of little things right, it too often feels like they’re struggling with the big stuff. Virtually all of the laughs come from smaller moments (a running gag about takeaway Chinese dumplings is one for the ages) and interplay between the uniformly excellent cast, including Chris Hemsworth as a dippy secretary - but it just feels like there needed to be a few more killer lines. Perhaps it’s the constraints of having to stay inside the PG rating, but this doesn’t feel as hilarious as BRIDESMAIDS or THE HEAT (maybe on par with SPY?). The set pieces too, are hit and miss – a ‘rock concert’ is less believable than the ghost that invades it (why does Hollywood have such a difficult time getting rock’n’roll right?), while the climax involves taking Times Square back to the 1970s for reasons that seem to have ended up on the cutting room floor (likewise a dance sequence that has been relegated to the end credits).

Overall though, it’s considerably more hit than miss. In fact, the only thing that you could really say sucks about the new GHOSTBUSTERS is a reworking of the theme by Fallout Boy. Yes, that’s right:  the shittest thing about a movie copping hideous flak for having the tenacity to have an all female cast, is a terrible cover by a band named Fallout Boy. Oh, and indeed, the irony.

GHOSTBUSTERS is released July 14 in Australia and NZ, and July 15 in the US and the UK