Ghostbusters 2016

OK, it’s finally here and people can speak about it from an informed point of view rather than a knee-jerk reaction from internet trolls. I loved the original “Ghostbusters”, and I had no problem with the idea of a reboot featuring women in the leads. The cast looked promising but I will say I am unfamiliar with the work of Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, but as alums of SNL they could be great or complete busts. The idea of putting together four funny women as a new crew of Supernatural fighters should work. The hate this movie generated however was amazing. The trailer has three times as many dislikes as likes and I’ve heard it is the most disliked video ever on YouTube. Many people are locked and loaded to hate this film, but I was not one of them.

As it turns out the haters are closer to the truth than are the naively optimistic. It is not something to hate but it is not very good. It seems strange with the talent and money spent putting it together that the film misfires so much. Most of the ways the movie fails have little to do with the cast or the concept but everything to do with the script and the tone. There are good things in the movie but they are passing elements rather than things that grow from the characters or the situations. The most laughs I had were in the end titles and it seems like they were just tossing in material they did not think would work in the film but for me was the stuff that worked the best.

Maybe the biggest problem is that no one will ever be able to reproduce the odd, karmic attitude and timing of Bill Murray in the original. This movie tries very hard to make the characters funny but it just feels flat almost in every scene. The opening sequence, which has none of the featured performers in it, is the best moment of the film. When the titles came up I was excited that the movie was getting started on the right foot. Kristen Wiig is a character so unsure of herself that she denies authorship of a book. Murray on the other hand was so self assured that every time something did not go as planned, you were amused by his reaction. Wiig’s Erin Gilbert expects to be mocked and that just does not work for the movie. Melissa McCarthy on the other hand is mostly just progressively loud. When given the chance she can be great. She carried last year’s “Spy” on her back very effectively. This performance feels more like one of those numerous comedies of hers that I have avoided in the last few years[Tammy, The Boss, Identity Theft].

 

In the plot of the movie, political forces get involved and it comes out of no where and it makes absolutely no sense.  Andy Garcia as the Mayor tries to thank and deny the Ghostbusters simultaneously. His annoying assistant seems to pop up every so often to divert the plot from the original point and basically for no reason at all. One of the reasons stuff worked in the original film was it was played in a somewhat serious vein. The Mayors office was interested in election year politics and the EPA guy was a bureaucratic weeny drunk on his own power. Every character the Ghostbusters interact with in this film are unrealistic and unconvincing. From the Department chair who thinks Princeton is not a prestigious enough school to get a recommendation from, to the Dean of the other institution who uses the middle finger as his primary form of communication and the Mayor who is so indifferent, nothing feels real. There are segments that feel cut and pasted into the story, there never is any drive behind the story as it develops. In spite of all the frenetic energy being put into this, I thought it was pretty lifeless.

When the original theme music is used in the film, you can almost convince yourself that there is something worthwhile happening on the screen. When you hear the theme from Fall Out Boy, you will want to cry because it mangles all that was fun in the Ray Parker Jr. original.   There are call backs and cameos throughout the movie. Keep your eyes open for familiar faces, except for Rick Moranis and Harold Ramis (RIP), everyone shows up for a bit and they are fun. It’s just not enough to justify seeing the movie.

SPY

After the horrid reviews of “Tammy” from last summer and seeing the horrible poster for this film featuring the star dressed down and colored gold, I thought this would be one to skip. The word of mouth though has been really strong, the Rotten Tomatoes score was impressively at 95%, so I decided to take a chance and I can say I was rewarded. This is an amusing spy parody that gets a lot of credit for playing off the Bond film tropes but then adds the Melissa McCarthy vulgarity in appropriate doses.  When you throw in a couple of extra performers that I have an affinity for, well you end up with a solid piece of summer entertainment.

The titles and title song are perfect reflections of a Bond opening with Maurice Binder like silhouettes and a soft rock piece of cheese that isn’t Adele but make you think of her. Jude Law plays as typecast as a spy who is good, and of course good looking, but is extra special because of the control operator he has back at CIA headquarters. He’s not incompetent, but he appears to be a little less perfect than 007 would be in the same circumstances. Ultimately, the comedy turns on getting McCarty out in the field, as an unlikely spy with equally unlikely cover.

There is an amusing sequence with the CIA equivalent of “Q”. A spy quartermaster that is dismissive of the agent and also expert at his job. Michael McDonald plays a stone-faced bureaucrat in this sequence and to make it work, he has no joy in his eyes. One of the reasons the film works is because they don’t play it as a parody but rather as a straight spy film with comic overtones. “Q” might smirk, or make a sarcastic comment, but this quartermaster has no sense of humor. Neither does deputy director of CIA operations Elaine Crocker, played by the always great Allison Janney. She is the straight man to a number of jokes in the set up of the film, I don’t know if I knew she was in the movie before today, but ultimately the movie is carried by other performers.

There are three performances that ultimately make the movie work, and then just as a little frosting, there is a fourth actor I want to mention. McCarthy is the big gun here. She knows her way around this kind of material and so far people don’t appear to be tired of the familiarity. Her disappointment at the covers she is given is a nice contrast to the hard edged character she ultimately pretends to be (and it turns out, actually is). As the star of the film, most of the focus is on her and if you don’t care for her, then this film will not be for you. I was impressed with the cold bitch persona that Rose Byrne manages for her villain character. The dry, dull tone that she uses to pass out orders, insults and backhanded compliments was amusing and matched the tone the movie was trying for.  Jason Statham was hysterical as a spy who can’t keep from tooting his own horn in the most outrageous and self delusional fantasies you can imagine. His comic chops are great as he plays against the type of character that he played in “Furious 7”. If there is a sequel to this film, look for he and McCarthy to be paired in the mismatched partner story that a sequel would beg for. Also, stick around through the credits for a couple of stingers and an out-take that will make you laugh one more time. Bobby Cannavale is a comedian turned actor who gets to play a handsome in a slick bad boy kind of way, villain. After seeing him in “Win-Win” and “Blue Jasmine” in the last few years, I am increasingly impressed with his work.

The worst poster of the year winner.

This film is not likely to be seen as a classic. The jokes are good the first time through but I doubt they will have a high degree of repeatability. There are several visual gags that help the film earn it’s rating, as well as the potty mouth of the star. The people behind this get the joke and they know how to tell it. I thought “The Heat” from two years ago was alright but it was a big stretch to believe the two characters as tough cops. This movie suffers from the same problem but covers it up the same way, by making enough jokes that connect to outweigh the improbability of any of the story.