DIRECTOR: Paul Feig
WRITER: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
STARS: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
PLOT: Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the threat.
There has been a big furore about Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, mostly due to his casting of regular stalwarts Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy as part of an all female ensemble. Whilst all girl casting is nothing to be sniffed at, the initial poor response to the film’s trailers meant that this gesture of empowerment was taken a little far by a media desperate not be seen as sexist and it quickly became impossible to express fears about the production without some automatic badge of misogyny.
As a film-lover with a particular dislike for Paul Feig’s body of work and also of McCarthy’s lead roles I walked that particular tightrope, but I also took the point to heart. Whilst I may not like the director’s previous history, nor the choice of cast, I really wasn’t in a position to criticise without seeing the film. So as a birthday ‘treat’ to myself I skipped down to the local multiplex and settled in for two hours of ghost busting and popcorn munching.
The film starts much quicker than the original Ghostbusters and with Zach Woods, an actor I really like from his TV work, having the lions share of the opening scene I was hopeful. Unfortunately the quality of the script where a tour guide pretends a museum is haunted only to find it actually is, was way below par. Two groans before the first five minutes are out is a really bad sign, but thankfully this wasn’t representative of the film as a whole and the comedy. Whilst still in Feig’s trademark ‘so obvious it hurts’ style, improved to more acceptable levels (though didn’t ever manage to breaks that rather low ceiling).
We are soon introduced to struggling university research scientist Erin Gilbert (Wiig) who finds that her old friend Abby (McCarthy) has published a book they co-wrote years earlier. The book is about the paranormal and threatens her tenure at the University so Erin goes to challenge Abby and get the book removed from sale. This kind of set up allows us to meet Abby’s assistant Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) and soon the three of them have teamed up to investigate a sighting at a local hotel. The subsequent publicity sees Erin sacked from the University and teaming up with Abby and Holtzmann as paranormal investigators. There are some decent nods to the original as the girls set up their enterprise such as the team being shown around the old fire-station, only to find the rent is far too expensive and they have to settle for a room above a Chinese takeaway.
It is here that we first meet the token eye-candy. Chris Hemsworth, in tight clothes and glassless glasses plays the dumbest of receptionists and for the most part is very good. He wears a little thin towards the end, but it is probably not the best recommendation for a female led comedy that the funniest scenes belong to a man.
The film runs at 120 minutes, without good reason and unfortunately (and unusually) it is the first hour that suffers. So much so that my girlfriend gave up at the hour mark, stating that “life is too short for this shit” and adjourned to the pub next door. Being the gentleman that I am (or rather the bloke who paid for the tickets), I stayed for the final hour and can attest that things did get better. Once the action began and the busting started I was more engaged, but the lack of a truly original story and Feig/Dippold’s dependence on slapstick and innuendo rather than genuinly funny dialogue meant that the film always felt like a cover version of the original rather than a real reboot.
The cast of female leads are fine and Wiig probably gives the best performance, whereas both McCarthy and McKinnon overdo things a little but are certainly acceptable. Leslie Jones plays the fourth member of the team Patty very well, but it is a token role that is far too stereotypical to make any waves. This leaves you with a film that will do nothing to improve the opinion of Feig if you are a hater, though on the flip-side this means that Feig lovers (and it appears there are many) will probably find a lot to like.
To appease the fans of the 1984 original we get cameos from all of the main players barring Rick Moranis. The quality of these small visits varies greatly, with Dan Aykroyd the best as a grumpy cab driver, while Bill Murray and especially Sigourney Weaver struggle to add any of their usual charm.
These guest appearances and some amusing side jokes and set pieces (Hemsworth answering the phone with Janine’s trademark “Ghostbusters, whadda’ya want?” raised a rare smile) are not enough however to suggest that this film has been made for anyone other than Feig fans and toy merchandisers. I doubt many 40 somethings who hold the original in the highest esteem will take to it, so a new audience is surely its only hope. But although I fit firmly into that 40 something category, I am not so blinkered to think that the ‘Girlbusters’ series should be killed of at its first attempt.
There were enough small glimpses of what is possible to suggest that with a better script and a different director an all girl Ghostbusters could work, but there is a lot more work to do to get an all female franchise to hit the heights of their all male contemporaries.