I saw the Ghostbusters reboot awhile back and I’m finally getting around to writing up some thoughts on it. Everyone knows the “controversy” surrounding this particular remake, which is all the rage in Hollywood these days (and has been for a while now). Now I’m not automatically opposed to remakes in every instance. If someone has something new to bring to a story that’s already been told, if effects weren’t up to the task in the original or if the filmmakers clearly dropped the ball the first time around, then a remake can be a wonderful movie-going experience. Sadly, these days the norm is to take everything that worked in the original, remove it, sometimes replace it with substandard material (usually not replace at all, just leave a weird void) and try to market it as a brilliant new approach. This rarely works. Dawn of the Dead is one of the few remakes I can think of off the top of my head that took a story everyone loved, took it in a new direction and created a reboot that faithful fans of the original could embrace and enjoy for completely different reasons. Oh Zack Snyder, what in the unholy fuck happened to you anyway?
Here are a few others: The Fly, Ocean’s Eleven, Cape Fear, The Thing (Carpenter’s film, NOT the 2014 turd), This doesn’t include the American remakes of foreign films like The Departed, The Ring, The Magnificent Seven (the 1960 film, NOT the 2016 version — this is getting confusing, Hollywood, please just stop) which were all successes in their own rights.
Naturally, Ghostbusters (2016) is not a success story. And after all the debate, reviews, discussion and rationalizations, the reason is simply this: Ghostbusters (1984) was a goddamn masterpiece. There is no defendable reason to reboot it other than to turn a sure thing profit. We all know the film business is a business, but come on. TV is doing pretty effin’ good these days doing all kinds of interesting and original shit. Stranger Things anyone? Oh hell, but then Westworld on HBO is pretty stinking good. Case in point of retooling a story to tell something wholly original. Now I’m just talking in circles.
Okay, anyway, consider this exchange in an elevator:
RAY: You know, it just occurred to me, we haven’t had a completely successful test of this equipment.
EGON: I blame myself.
PETER: So do I.
RAY: No sense worrying about it now.
PETER: Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.
RAY: Yep. Let’s get ready. Switch me on!
EGON charges RAY’s proton pack, then backs away
I would argue that, “Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator in his back.” is not only the best, funniest line in the movie, but a microcosm of why the film works in the first place. 4 bumbling scientists completely over their heads and succeeding anyway, against insurmountable odds. And when you have the perfect cast of some of the funniest comedic actors of our time in those roles bouncing dialogue off each other like a fine-tuned humor machine… well, you’ve seen it, you know.
Cabbie (Dan Akroyd cameo): … I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!
Erin: That’s a double negative. It means you are afraid of ghosts.
Pretty good line actually (I actually can’t remember if it made it into the final film – I remember it in the trailers, but now don’t recall). Observational humor poking fun at a trope from the original. But herein lies the problem with Ghostbusters (2016) and perhaps Paul Feig movies in general. He relies on what I’m coining here as Expositional Humor far too much. What I mean is that the humor is found in explaining the joke. Homer Simpson set the stage years ago with, “It’s funny because it’s true.” Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are masters of this comedic style and there are many a laugh to be had in the Ghostbusters remake. But very little of it is memorable. It’s a bland dinner at a restaurant you didn’t really mind, but wouldn’t recommend to friends. Bridesmaids and The Heat are two occurrences where the cleverness of the screenplay and the progression of the plot are inherently funny and don’t rely on the droll explanation of every joke. Unfortunately, Ghostbusters (2016), for the most part, does not fit this mold at all. There’s very little situational or character-based humor. Everything feels like a gag or gimmick. I say very little because there is one glowing reason to pay money to see this film and that is Kate McKinnon. By the time I write this the world is already well on the way to recognizing the comedic gifts this woman possesses. First as the funniest cast member on SNL and now in her ever-expanding film career. Every time she’s in a scene it comes alive. Was she worth the price of admission? I don’t know. Maybe. Certainly worth a rental.
I will also mention that the “plot” of Ghostbusters (2016) is thin. Like so thin it’s nearly transparent. I’m not gonna bother getting into it, it doesn’t matter. Caddyshack proves you don’t need a coherent plot to be a comedy masterpiece.
There was one chance for this remake to succeed. And that is if the 2016 film was a direct sequel to Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2. The first act of the new film even set it up. The new cast is let in on a secret – the Mayor of New York and his staff know that ghosts are real and have been covertly covering it up for years, and even offer to pay the new Ghostbusters to keep up the good work on the condition that they do not reveal what they know publicly. Now how would the Mayor’s office know about ghosts unless the 80’s films had actually happened within the new film’s historical continuity? That would have been awesome. But sadly, it’s almost like they lost the nerve at the last-minute and decided to go to some length establishing that this was not a sequel, but a remake in every sense of the word. Going so far as to give ever-increasingly distracting cameos to the original cast (minus Rick Moranis). They even shoehorn Bill Murray into the narrative as a supernatural debunker who eventually receives his comeuppance. It’s as lame as it sounds.
The new Ghostbusters is not as godawful as some reviewers would have you believe. And there are quite a few laughs in there. But it’s a losing battle when your source material is this rich. Like Wesley Snipe’s title character said in one of the first truly great comic book films since Donner’s Superman, “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill.”