Ghostbusters is a flawed spectacle of incredibly fun highs and inexcusable, boring lows. The film is all over the place, struggling to maintain a focused tone and concise direction. The film succeeds on pure chemistry and wizardry alone. Director Paul Feig is fortunate to have terrific casts in his films, Ghostbusters is not different. The new all-female cast of “Ghostbusters” consists of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jone. They are fantastic and a joy to watch on screen. Another huge plus are the spectacular special effects. The ghosts are lively and colorful in a Haunted Mansion scary-but-not sort of way. They are delightful. Everything in between from the bad guy Rowan to Mayor Bradley to anyone with whom the “Ghostbusters” comes in contact are dull and lifeless. The story searches for a hook, a conflict, something substantial to hang its cinematic hat upon, settling on the most obvious: the franchise itself. It is not nearly enough. Regardless of these issues, the film contains plenty of laughs, surprises and energy to be just lively enough to make the trip to the theater worth it. If only the film could let go of its past just a little more to venture out on its own with its own identity and story. Perhaps that is for the sequel.
At the beginning of Ghostbusters, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) are long lost friends, co-authors on a paranormal book that failed to gain any audience. It is an embarrassing black mark in Erin’s history and the beacon of accomplishment for Abby. Years after parting ways, Erin is nearing tenure at a respected university and Abby is teaching paranormal theory at a smaller school. When Rowan North (Neil Casey) begins setting off phantom bombs to bring the ghostly apparitions further into our world, Erin and Abby’s worlds collide once again. Teaming up with Abby’s assistant Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) they become the “Ghostbusters.” Following the trail of hauntings throughout New York, the group discover Rowan’s plan. They race time, plotting way to prevent Rowan from unleashing an unstoppable terror from beyond.
While Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are great together with wonderful chemistry and timing, Paul Feig makes some odd decisions in utilizing both the actresses and their characters within Ghostbusters. First, for the most part, as far as the comedy is concerned, they are the straight women of the film. They do, on occasion, get funny lines but for the most part they either lead up to a ghost gag or set up a much funnier bit from Kate McKinnon or Leslie Jones. Character wise, there is not much to Erin and Abby’s friendship and conflicts past the first act. The film begins with a barrier between the characters that has potential to set up great rift between these two leading ladies. But, the film decides to resolve these issues right off the bat. This leaves their true potential flat and bland for the rest of the film. This is great news for McKinnon and Jones who easily steal the film from these two titans but it is bad news for the audience who are left searching for something between Erin and Abby that never fully develops. This would be fine if there was something substantial for the their characters to conquer as they battle the big-bad, Rowan, who is little more than a weak plot mechanic. They end up being superheroes battling an evil looking to conquer the world. Bah. This proves to be excruciatingly dull. This two fantastic comedic actresses, used to far better results in Fieg’s Bridesmaids and Spy, are reduced to stumbling through awkward sight gags, watching McKinnon dance around or handing the comedic reigns over to Jones.
As the film progresses into its final act, Kate McKinnon’s quirky character Holtzmann explodes into a full-fledged action hero. This happens during the film’s best sequence where the “Ghostbusters” square off against Rowan’s ghostly horde. Holtzman pulls out two ionized weapons from her backpack, prepares to attack by licking the barrels and races into battle slinging ghosts aside and defeating spirits left and right in a kinetic, exhilarating display. Through out the film, leading up this moment, when the film focuses on Holtzmann and her ghost hunting creations, McKinnon exudes an unbridled sense of wonder and enthusiasm that energizes the film. While this approach fuels much of the film, there is little else to her character present on screen. Leslie Jones fares a little better as her character has a little more to prove as she joins the team. McKinnon is more of a sidekick where Jones is more of an outsider. She is also a gem, hilarious and engaging with spunk and spirit. “The power of Patty compels you!”
Director Paul Feig creates a serviceable reboot for the Ghostbusters franchise with his usual flair for comedy and timing. Although, the film seems to wiggle free of his grasp from time to time, especially the more the effects take over the film. His signature approach is more evident in the first act where Erin faces the embarrassment of her superiors discovering her carefully hidden past. Another great scene is where Abby and Holtzman first meet Abby and they struggle to convince her that her book – and her past – is a good thing. This conflict of character is reduced to oddly placed but funny fart joke. Feig is no stranger to using sophomoric humor when able as he displayed to hysterics within Bridesmaids‘ bridal gown scene. What Feig, and his writer Katie Dippold, miss in this feature is a strong conflict for his characters to overcome to defeat the villain. Relying solely upon Rowan’s dastardly plan is inadequate reducing the film to superhero mode. It cries out for something for the team to overcome, the make them champions, to engage the audience on a more emotional level. The plot to defraud them via Andy Garcia’s hilarious mayor is more of a distraction than they seem to have intended. On the spectacle front, Fieg handles the effects like a seasoned champ.
All in all, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones prove to be great “Ghostbusters” with great potential for further adventures. To the film’s credit – and to that of director Fieg, the film ends with its audience hungry for more. This accomplishment cannot be overlooked. As a Summer popcorn action film, Ghostbusters hits its marks. It serves up ample amounts of laughs and amazing visuals. The lack of characterization and emotional beats weaken the film. For an action packed spectacle full of ghosts and effects, the film is surprisingly dull at times. This is due to the characters being more akin to cartoons than full fledged characters. Does a film like Ghostbusters need grounded characters with complicated, complex emotional conflicts? The end result proves it so, there needs to be personal struggles, flaws and setbacks to overcome. Ghostbusters touches on that early on but casts that all aside midway. The result is a visually satisfying film with funny gags and impressive visuals. But the film lacks that punch to get its audience invested in the outcome, the consequences and the lives of its characters. This does not mean that the film is a complete bust however. It succeeds where it absolutely has to, the four main characters, its effects and the overall atmosphere of its cinematic world. Regardless of its flaws, bring more Ghostbusters!
Ghostbusters (3 / 5)