Funny and at times utterly charming, yet the Ghostbusters reboot/make is never convincing. Drawing on the broadest points from the Ivan Reitman-helmed namesake possible, including the same dynamic of disgraced academics and roped-in prole busting ghosts, Paul Feig, Katie Dippold and crew hinge their film on a procession of toy-making and flailing, Apatow cringe comedy (naturally, one character has to learn about the value of self-acceptance and friendship). It’s a hollow core, drowning in noise.
This manifests most clearly in characterization. Reitman’s film centered on the intersection of capital, fringe science, and belief. Cynical hucksters, true believers, and paycheck seekers, all wanting some combination of success and validation as they stumbled, with illegal, calamitous technology they barely understood, against eldritch horrors. The jokes arose from these conflicting personalities and the teeming, glib, dismissive New York they operated in. Ghostbusters 2016 lacks both this range and depth. The central quartet–played by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones–are all do-gooders with little motivation beyond proving ghosts are real and, later, saving the city. What distinguishing personality traits exist only for crowbarring jokes: Wiig’s Gilbert is prone to freakouts and lustful overtures towards dim-witted receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth); McCarthy and McKinnon (as Yates and gadgeteer Holtzmann, respectively) alternate between the Ray/Egon-style cranks and collegiate pranksters; Jones’ subway worker Patty is a sassy infodump. Undeniably, the rapport between the cast is naturalistic: the film hits its groove when the Ghostbusters begin to assemble, glibly commenting on whatever scraps they end up working with (namely, when Gilbert unknowingly helps Yates and Holtzmann steal supplies from the Z-rate MIT knockoff they were booted from). Yet, despite this, too often their behavior veers wildly for the express purpose of a gag (during the first big ghostbust, Holtzmann decides to pull a boo scare joke on Gilbert, for no discernible reason), a plasticity matching the shiny Times Square of the film’s climax. No way anyone in Ghostbusters ’16 has a life outside the screen.
What’s especially disappointing is the way Feig and McCarthy have gone backwards. Following the success of their team-up with Wiig, Bridesmaids, the two spun off into a partnership which seemed to improve in iteration. The Heat used Bridesmaids‘ sad sack personality as grist for a gender-bent Lethal Weapon. Last year’s excellent Spy went further, catapulting McCarthy into a mean fuck-up, who was still the smartest person in the room, then watched her work within the insanity around her. This trajectory was ideally suited for a Ghostbusters update, fronted by McCarthy’s anti-glamor and Feig’s eye for mayhem (the fantastic, DIY aesthetic of the Ghostbusters equipment in this film even lends itself to this). Instead, it’s Wiig at the center, playing a woman torn, in that most movie of fashions, between career and friendship. Sad, soft, fuzzy and nonthreatening, with only the faintest sign of life. This Hollywood milieu undermines the humor of watching the outcast and the overlooked pulverize gentrified New York property with nuclear guns.