The Man Who Almost Ruined the All-Female Ghostbusters

ghostbusters-2016-cast

Ghostbusters
Directed by Paul Feig
Opens July 15

After what feels like an eternity of hearing the incessant drip of sopping masculine pride spilling down dirty cargo pants, that all-female Ghostbusters remake has finally arrived, whether your least favorite cousin likes it or not. The crisis surrounding the film’s identity seems to have shaken the film’s core (if you’ve just woken from a coma and want to head back into another one, google “Female Ghostbusters Controversy”). Its villain is a personification of the kind of righteous manchild who took the film to task—the sort who believes his misogyny is divinely ordained and that the world must know about his feelings of inadequacy. There are jokes about angry internet commenters, a conspiracy to keep women looking like fools, and every man on screen carps that these dames should be doing anything else with their time other than following their dreams. Naturally, the problem with the movie isn’t the four women ably kicking adversity in the teeth, it’s the man behind the camera.

Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a heartbeat away from becoming a tenured Columbia physics professor when a raving old man (Ed Begley, Jr.) runs into her work place asking for her help with a haunted house. She’s reluctant to fess up to any knowledge of the paranormal lest the bigwigs on the tenure board find out but her past gives her away. She wrote a book with her old best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, radiant) on ghosts, but gave up that life long ago. Abby has not, to put it mildly. She and new lab partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon, a mix of Lenny and Squiggy) have ventured further into studying the physics of the undead and this haunting may be their first step towards legitimacy. Sure, Erin gets fired when footage of her interacting with a ghost goes viral, but she regains her sense of purpose. With the help of MTA firebrand Patty (Leslie Jones) and receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth, so hilarious he breaks the film in half) the team just has to figure out how and why the men’s rights activist at the Mercado Hotel (Neil Casey) is trying to summon ghosts all over New York.

The film’s biggest concession appears not to have been to a mob of tear-stained fanboys, nor the original film (though look out for cameos from every original cast member, including Dan Aykroyd, who finally looks like his character from Nothing But Trouble, and a statue of the late, great Harold Ramis), but time. The editing is sloppy, giving continuity and causality short-shrift. The script is about eight or nine rewrites from perfect and everything feels edited down from a much longer scene. Things just keep happening, as if director Paul Feig was worried someone would shut down production at any minute. His ghostbusters rocket from one meeting to another, somehow having enough time to paint a Cadillac, design new weapons, steal outfits and sew on nametags in what feels like twelve hours. Meanwhile they pass a million funny actors given nothing to do along the way towards the tidy conclusion, which has become an unfortunate Feig trademark.

Compositions feel haphazard and lackluster, like the disappointing Chinese food McCarthy keeps ordering throughout the movie. Since 2011’s Bridesmaids, where his bloodless framing at least felt purposeful, he’s become unstoppable by putting funny women where they belong: in the writer’s room and in front of the camera. Following 2013’s The Heat, however, his direction has gotten saggy and incautious, despite employing Robert Yeoman as his cinematographer. He’s not wrong to trust the instincts and screen presences of Wiig, McCarthy, Mckinnon, Jones and writer Katie Dippold, he’s just not doing them any favors by assuming they’ll direct the movie for him. In a way, it’s perfect that he took over a franchise from producer/director Ivan Reitman. Both men treat their cameras like a box that captures funny stuff. No more, no less.

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