Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Yeah, bustin’ really made me feel good…again!!!

This reboot basically follows the beats of the 1984 and 1989 films…where Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig, playing a distaff counterpart of Peter Venkman from the original two movies) is a physics professor awaiting tenureship at Columbia University (that same institution that fired Venkman along with colleagues Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler from the first one).  The fly in the ointment is a book where she happens to share co-writing credit with longtime childhood friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, channelling Ray Stantz).  Abby happens to hook up with Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon, essentially a trans-gendered Spengler), and they both run a rather disreputable paranormal-investigation operation, partly being funded by sales of “Ghosts From Our Past: Both Literally & Figuratively: A Study Of The Paranormal“.  Before anyone can say “Who you’re gonna call?”, Abby loses the tenureship once the dean discovers the book is already available (in paperback and e-book form!!!) and Erin is forced to pack what’s left of her dignity in an office-moving box as she pursues Abby and Jillian downtown.

Poor Erin meanwhile gets shanghaied in one of their runs at Aldridge House, a tourist-trap “haunted mansion” in uptown NYC – complete with “gimmicked” candle-holders to mimic poltergeist activity, where she gets a faceful of ectoplasm as a price to pay for her scepticism.  Meanwhile, subway token clerk Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones, essentially Winston Zeddemore with more street-smarts) gets to witness a manifestation of similar proportions when the ghost of an executed criminal shows up at one of the rail lines.  She may lack the scientific smarts of the other three, but her encyclopaedic knowledge of The Big Apple earns her a berth – not to mention furnishing them a “sweet ride” courtesy of a hearse nicked from her uncle’s funeral parlour; meanwhile, aspiring actor Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) joins the team as the designated “receptionist” as they hold (temporary) office on top of an abandoned Chinese restaurant.

Going back to the beats, it does follow them, including the part where they face opposition from Abby & Jillian’s old academic superior as they seek sponsorship for their “paranormal research”, not to mention the City of New York, who sees them as attention-hungry YouTube pranksters (then again, there was no YouTube to follow their exploits back in the Eighties).  Yes, the self-styled “Ghostbusters” get to save the day, but not enough to have them tagged as potential menaces by the Mayor (that’s post 9-11 paranoia for ya!!!)

Well, all that heightened “paranormal activity” that has been escalating around the Big Apple is part of a plan by Rowan North (Neil Casey, underplaying it like a pro) a janitor at the Mercado Hotel, to take revenge on society in general (after being bullied throughout his childhood); it so happens that Abby & Erin’s tome must have triggered his malevolent compulsions.  However, our feisty female ‘Busters step up to the plate and fire their proton packs against the supernatural horde, including a resurrected Stay Puft Marshmallow man rendered as a parade float – and subdued by Erin’s handy Swiss Army Knife. They seal the deal only after franchise mascot Slimer comes along, hi-jacks the ECTO-1 (Patty’s uncle’s hearse, souped up with nuclear engines – the guys from The Fast & The Furious are going to be crapping in their pants in sheer envy) and takes a gaggle of ghosties for a joyride; in an attempt to shut down the dimensional portal Rowan has brought forth, our plucky heroines decide to sacrifice their “sweet ride” (with a nuclear engine, again???  Holy Hiroshima, Batman!!!).

Once again, the day is saved…thanks to The Powerpuff Girls the Ghostbusters!!!

Yes, they get new digs in the end (courtesy of a chastened but grateful City of New York), from that roach-infested Chinese restaurant to the iconic fire station (and maybe a more convincing ECTO-1 – nothing beats the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance – preferably without dead bodies in the back, puh-leeeze).  Now if the delivery guy can only get Abby’s wonton take-away right this time….

I was practically thrown out on a loop there, since I was expecting a bomb of Fant4stic Four proportions especially with all the online vitriol hurled upon the initial full trailer (“Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts”); however, the film lets the trolls take the upper hand for a brief moment as footage of their initial exploits gets uploaded.  The writers also get to sneak in clever shout-outs to its original source material as well as those to Jaws (as per Andy Garcia’s Mayor’s priceless reaction) and The Exorcist (when Patty literally bitch-slaps a ghost possessing Abby).  However, there are a couple of clunkers out there, like the one when Holtzmann sings “Rhythm Of The Night”  only to have Yates cut in and ask “mind if I DeBarge in?”; that scene in the rock club where Abby gets to crowd-surf in pursuit of a demon run amuck on stage, then Patty follows suit only to crash (“is this a race thing???”).

Cameos by “original” Ghostbusters cast members Dan Aykroyd (as a NYC cabbie who nixes Erin’s request for a ride), Bill Murray (as professional paranormal debunker Martin Heiss), Ernie Hudson (as Patty’s hapless Uncle Bill), Annie “Janine” Potts (as a hotel manager) and Sigourney Weaver (as Rebecca Gorin, Jillian’s “mentor” of sorts) effectively play up the nostalgic feels for the source material.  Rick Moranis , sad to say, cannot be coaxed out of his self-imposed exile from Hollywood to complete the team; what would have been nice, though, was to throw in an “appearance” by the late Harold “Egon Spengler” Ramis as one of the ghosts…his son gets to appear as an extra in the rock club scene, alongside Ozzy Osbourne no less.

Writing-wise, the film keeps a natural pace regarding the origin story, playing faster and looser than its predecessors.  The female-centred dynamic seems refreshing, not a bit misandristic  – as many male reviewers would like to point out.  I am in particular fascinated with McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann character, playing like an even loopier version of the original’s Egon Spengler cranked up to Doctor Who levels.  Fellow SNL alumna Leslie Jones also shines in this movie, no-selling her comic scenes (even the rock-club sequence) like a professional; she definitely does not deserve the online troll heat that she has received as of late.  Music is also top-notch, with the film itself opening to the one and only Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” theme (thankfully, the abominable Fall Out Boy-Missy Elliott remake doesn’t get much play until the middle).  Also loved Elle King’s “Good Girls” which closes the film – almost left the cinema dancing like Kevin because of its toe-tapping catchiness!!!

Let me put this straight….I am definitely looking forward to a better sequel (where our fearless females get to meet Zuul, the Gatekeeper of Gozer!!!)

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