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“Ghostbusters”: Should You Be Afraid?

July 15, 2016

Ghostbusters

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are funny people. In various combinations, they’ve all made me laugh until I can’t breathe on Saturday Night Live, in Bridesmaids, and elsewhere. The reason why their Ghostbusters reboot is more of a bust than a boom, comedically speaking, isn’t because they’re women. It’s because the screenwriters, Katie Dipold and director Paul Feig, didn’t provide them with gutbusting material.

“It’s not terrible,” as Melissa McCarthy’s character says right before the film’s closing credits (which, by the way, are its highlight — they move nimbly in a way the rest of the movie doesn’t). But it’s far from great. The 1984 version is no masterpiece, but it delivers big laughs — think “It’s the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man,” or “Dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” The new movie references that line, among other nods to the original. With the exception of the seemingly retired Rick Moranis, all the old familiar faces, including the late Harold Ramis, pop up briefly. But they, too, aren’t given gags worthy of their talent.

The new Ghostbusters has its strengths. The special effects are stellar; for once, I was glad that I spent the extra money to see a movie in 3D. And it delivers real scares, but the scream-with-laughter-versus-just-plain-scream ratio is way off. I chuckled mildly about five times in the nearly two-hour film. That’s not nearly enough.

This is a movie that’s constantly on the verge of being hilarious. Promising situations are set up, you can feel a big yuk coming, and then… nothing. The lines aren’t quite right. You can see all the actors toiling to make these lackluster bits shine, but they’re working with unpolishable turds.

It’s a shame: I really wanted to love the new Ghostbusters, and not just because I don’t want to be lumped in with the message-board misogynists who damned it based only on the trailer. But it turns out the best jokes really were in that underwhelming clip, although they do play a little more amusingly in context.

Remaking Ghostbusters with such a talented cast —which also includes SNL‘s brilliant Cecily Strong as an aide to the Mayor (blandly played by Andy Garcia) and Chris Hemsworth as the team’s ridiculously asinine receptionist — seemed like a genuinely good idea to me, and I’ve enjoyed all of Feig’s other films: The Heat (which Dipold wrote), Spy and especially Bridesmaids. But the movie robs its performers of opportunities to play to their strengths.

McCarthy is the most gifted physical comedian of her generation, but her CGI-enhanced pratfalls feel fake, so they truly fall flat. Wiig’s character is so buttoned-down that you keep waiting for her to cut loose like she did in Bridesmaids, but it only happens in a brief dance scene with Hemsworth. McKinnon and Jones do what they can to put their own spin on their characters, but they’re stuck with a script so sketchy, it wouldn’t make the cut at an SNL dress rehearsal.

Who you gonna call? Get me rewrite!

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