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A strong cast can't save the new "Ghostbusters" from a director way out of his depth

Reviewed by Patrick & Paul Gibbs

Out of Four

StarriMelissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth
Screenplay by Katie Dippold and Paul Fieg
Based on the screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
Directed by Paul Fieg

Remember The New Odd Couple? Of course you don't. It was a failed 1982 sitcom starring Ron Glass (Barney Miller, Firefly) and Demond Wilson (Sanford and Son.)  It was literally the exact same show as the Tony Randall/Jack Klugman version, to the point that they used several unused scripts from that incarnation. The only difference was that Oscar and Felix were black. The show was nothing to sing about, or to get worked up about, and nobody did so, because there was no internet at the time.

But in the internet age, and with a property as geekccentric as Ghostbusters, this remake has been right up there with Brexit and the U.S. Presidential Election for sheer divisiveness. Now, after many months of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, with angry back and forth name calling and tantrums on both sides, the movie finally hits theaters.  And we have to state categorically, dogs and cats are not living together, and there is no need for mass hysteria. That being said: we, came, we saw . . . and this didn't exactly kick any ass.

Any backlash over the franchise being handed over to female leads is just chauvinistic and offensively absurd. Not only does it not alter the premise, but the leads actresses are talented and charismatic, decisively defeating the rather lame suggestion that they were not up to this (by far the biggest laugh in the movie is witty jab at the internet uproar.).  The ladies very definitely come through this like pros.

It's simply too bad that the same thing can't be said for Paul Feig, the film's co-writer/director, who is in completely over his head and fails to give them a worthy vehicle. Truth be told, for all of the hype, this Ghostbusters really isn't a movie. It''s a self indulgent fan party that somehow made it onto the big screen.  It's the Ghostbusters Anniversary Special. So if you have't seen the original, you're probably better off skipping this one, because it simply doesn't stand on it's own as movie.

The essentials remain the same: three New York scientists who posses a fascination with the paranormal set up a business for paranormal investigation and elimination.  New York is overrun by spooks, and the Ghostbusters save the day.

Kristen Wiig stars as Erin Gilbert, a University Professor who is seeking tenure, and is horrified when
her past comes back to haunt her, as it were. Years ago, Erin and a colleague, Abigail Yates, wrote a book called "Ghosts Are Real", and it seems that Yates is peddling the book online just at the time when Erin needs desperately to be taken seriously.

So Erin goes to confront her former best friend, Abby (Melissa McCarthy), only to find her working on some strange experiments with a fellow scientist, Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon.). Abby is very much still in the ghost hunting game, and with the help of Holtzman's high tech wizardry, feels she is on the verge of a breakthrough.

Naturally, the three are called out to investigate a supposed ghost sighting, and Erin quickly becomes a believer again, which helps soften the blow when she is fired from the University. The three women decide to go into business for themselves. Along the way, they pick up Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones),  a transit authority employee who sees a ghost and thinks she's joining some sort of a club, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), an extremely dumb but hunky receptionist.

At the same time, a mysterious man, Rowan (Neil Casey) is going around New York, scheming and talking to himself and clearly up to no good. Rowan also believes in the supernatural, but has much darker plans.

The movie follows the same basic structure as the 1984 classic, with some alterations along the way, some that work, and some that do not. It is, thankfully, funnier than the trailers indicated, and the cast is likable enough:  none of these actresses' is doing career defining work, but they play well off of each other and can definitely carry a movie. Hemsworth's dumb beefcake routine wears thin quickly, but he's so invested in it that is entirely to the star's credit that takes him a lot longer to become completely annoying than it should.

The problem here is quite simple: the script and direction are not strong, to put it mildly. Where the original is still quoted every day by millions, not a single person walking out of the packed screening could be heard quoting a line from this version. They were singing the original theme song, they were smiling and having a good time, yes, but they were most certainly not celebrating the dialogue. In addition, the story structure and flow are clumsy and plodding. But in fairness, when it comes time to kick into high gear and go for action . . . that's when the movie becomes a total frenetic mess.

There is rather vocal "backlash against the backlash" crowd out there, and while we applaud them for shouting down sexism, their opinion of this extremely limited director is overblown. Yes, Feig did strong work with the classic sitcom Arrested Development, but his directorial style is better suited to sitcoms or or their big screen equivalents than to a film like this. He has a good track record for making people laugh, but he lacks the visual and atmospheric cinematic skills a movie like this one badly needs. The imagery is flat except for when it's directly lifted from the original, and the dull staging of most scenes is the cinematic equivalent of a pay where the actors just stand in a line at the front of the stage and step forward when they have a line. Worse, he doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word tight, as the film drags in some slow spots that would be all but unwatchable if the stars were less likable, and cause the movie to feel much, much longer than its run time. The extended action sequence that finally comes after a lot of scenes of very little going on isn't even up there with the action set pieces in last year's Pixels. But most importantly, those touting that this will be better than the original will need an advanced degree in B.S. to back that up when the movie is constantly relying on in-jokes and cameos from the original cast, and having no identity of its own that it can claim. The constant winks and tips of the hat do show a certain respect for the source material, but like most everything else, it comes down to one simple fact: they just aren't that funny. Ironically, for all of the self indulgent cameos, the only one that really worked was  an extended one by Ed Begley, Jr, who has nothing to do with Ghostbusters. The rest of them all bring the movie to a grinding halt for a minute or two, and the entire joke is "It's funny because that person was in Ghostbusters!" They are kind of fun, but there is nothing particularly clever about any of them.

That's not to say that the movie doesn't have any strengths. It does have its share of laughs, but most are mild to moderate laughs rather than big ones, and they're not especially memorable. And the character relationship and backstory between Erin and Abby really works and is even almost touching (even if Wiig is giving easily her dullest big screen performance), and McKinnon is frequently obnoxious, but she's supposed to be, and she's also quite amusing. Out of the four, she is clearly the one trying most to create a unique character, and with a script that could have backed her up, Holtzman could have been very memorable. Leslie Jones has a strong comic delivery, but is given a stock character, and frankly, we're just going to say it; for all of the strutting that's been done about breaking ground with the feminist angle (and again, we're very down with the whole feminist thing), it's a little bit jaw dropping that the movie takes it as a forgone conclusion that the uneducated and uncouth member of the group is obviously the black one. Really? Sure, the same could be said of the original film. But that was made 30 years ago. So much for progressive.

Over all, it comes down to the fact that this is not a movie to get so worked up about. It's an absolute disgrace that people were offended at casting women, and it's very unfortunate that anyone legitimately complaining that this simply isn't a very good movie and pales in comparison to the original are getting lumped in with that crowd. This Ghostbusters is neither offensive nor special, and it's really just a glorified TV special trying to catch some light bouncing off of the original blockbuster, which is still shining 30 years later. For some, this will be a really good way to celebrate that fact. But personally, we'd rather celebrate with something more reliable and consistent than Feig: a Blu Ray player.

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