‘Ghostbusters’ Review

It’s like the original ‘Ghostbusters,’ but broader

July 15, 2016

Plot points for Ghostbusters discussed below.

While watching the new Ghostbusters, I was reminded of the hacky, groan-worthy comedy-inside-a-comedy from the second season of Ricky Gervais’ Extras.

In the show, Gervais’ Andy Millman partnered with the BBC to create a sitcom about working in a factory. It was like a funhouse mirror of Gervais’ hit show The Office: instead of being cynical and real and sometimes sweet like The Office, When the Whistle Blows was a stereotypically hacky Britcom. It was filled with characters that pulled funny faces in lieu of actually acting, and was riddled with catchphrase-driven punch lines.

In other words, the humor was broad.

A similar problem haunts this week’s reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. As When the Whistle Blows is to The Office, so Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is to Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Both pairs of programming feature relatively similar situations and dramatically different executions. And in both pairs, the broader program comes off worse.

The new Ghostbusters is a movie more comfortable trading in fart jokes and pratfalls and silly dances and ethnic humor than it is in providing anything like intellectual stimulation or smart humor. Ghostbusters is like every other pointless reboot and unnecessary remake we’ve seen in the last few years, trading glossy special effects for heart and lowest-common-denominator guffaws for harder-earned chuckles.

Wiig stars as Erin Gilbert, a tenure-track professor at Columbia whose past is about to come back to haunt her. Following a terrifying paranormal experience at a historic mansion in NYC, the home’s historian, Ed (Ed Begley Jr.), asks her to help figure out what’s going on. Why would he come to Gilbert, a legitimate physicist whose seriousness you can discern because we first see her talking about a big equation on the whiteboard of her classroom? Turns out she authored a book years ago with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) about the paranormal—a book she’s terrified the tenure committee will see before her final interview.

Needless to say, Columbia ain’t afraid of no ghosts, mostly because Columbia don’t believe in no ghosts. Erin’s fired after she, Abby, and the kooky mad-physicist Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) discover evidence of the paranormal at the haunted mansion—or, more precisely, after a YouTube clip of their discovery goes viral. Abby and Jillian join Erin on the breadline when they get fired from a Trump University-style center of higher education, leaving the trio with few options other than opening a ghost-busting operation.

Unable to afford a dilapidated firehouse—gentrification, man—the three rent office space on top of a Chinese restaurant. The first order of business: hiring a secretary. And Kevin’s (Chris Hemsworth) everything you could want in a secretary: hot. Sure, he’s stupid and can’t answer the phones and has no interest in remembering the name of the business. But his bosses like to look at him.

(Get it? It’s a critique of sexism because women are objectified and no one cares about their intelligence. Just, um, like in the original Ghostbusters, where they picked the secretary because she was hot?)

(Wait, that doesn’t seem right.)

(Anyway, I just wanted to make sure you understood the point that Paul Feig and cowriter Katie Dippold were trying to make.)

(The point was sexism.)

Ironically, given all the Sturm und Drang over the fact that the Ghostbusters are now ladies, Kevin, a man, is the best, funniest part of the film. His sweet stupidity along with Erin’s semi-creepy fawning over his good looks along with some genuinely clever Abbot and Costello "Who’s on First"-style dialogue during his introduction combine to help him steal the show from the Lady Ghostbusters.

Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) rounds out the team, bringing some smart-alecky charm to the band of scientists. An MTA employee who encounters a ghost on the job, Patty serves as a useful font of exposition, explaining to the other members of the team the historical significance of the various locations they find themselves in.

The Ghostbusters must discover why there has been a surge in paranormal activity and take out the sad Men’s Rights Activist stand-in who has been ginning up the ghoulish commotion. Spoiler alert: They do. Further spoiler alert: They do so by shooting him in the dick with their proton packs.

I imagine angry YouTube commenters (even further spoiler alert: they also come in for a tongue-lashing during Ghostbusters) will take offense at the dénouement’s literal ball busting. But the real crime, again, is that the joke here is simply too broad. "Man gets hit in groin" is designed to deliver cheap laughs for idiots. The Simpsons was mocking this sort of humor 20-some years ago.

I guess we haven’t progressed quite as much as we like to think.

Published under: Movie Reviews