Director/co-writer Paul Feig’s no-one-asked-for “Ghostbusters” remake opens with a big “ugh” and never recovers. Naturally, it’s a joke aimed at Donald Trump and his supporters — a heavy-handed haha about an “anti-Irish fence.” Yep, even before the movie can even cast its spell, the spell is shattered forever by divisive partisanship. From there, instead of relaxing, you’re on guard throughout for the next left-wing sucker punch.
It’s probably been more than ten years since I have seen the original “Ghostbusters” (1984). As much as I love and regularly rewatch the early “Saturday Night Live” alum flicks (“Caddyshack,” “Animal House,” “Vacation,” “Blues Brothers,” “Stripes,” etc.), “Ghostbusters” has never been a favorite. To prepare for this review, though, I gave it another look yesterday and found myself enjoying it more than ever.
For a movie that became such a phenomenon, it is remarkably laid back. One scene effortlessly flows into the next. The pacing is a marvel. The chemistry between the players crackles. The characters and their relationships are instantly well-defined. There aren’t many big laughs but you are chuckling throughout. The half-dozen or so iconic lines still repeated thirty-years on (“Yes, it’s true, this man has no dick.”) come from believable characters and circumstance, primarily a pre-Oscar-chasing Bill Murray, who is nothing short of brilliant.
The original also has a big beating heart. The romance between Murray’s irreverent man-child and Sigourney Weaver’s grown-up musician is not only sweet, it gives the effects-laden climax a human purpose beyond OhMyDearGawdTheWorldCouldEnd! Toss in the spice of cool-nerd Rick Moranis and what you’ve got is a near-classic.
To the surprise of no one, Feig’s horrible remake tosses out everything that made the original so beloved, especially its brisk pace. Wisely, the original is not an Origin Story. Rather, it is a classic slobs-versus-snobs comedy with a ton of special effects. Instead of burying us in unnecessary mythology about the origins of the proton pack and Ghostbuster logo, in favor of getting on with the story, these things just appear. The remake does the complete opposite, which makes it a slog entirely too concerned with Explaining Everything. It is also not funny or amusing.
Everyone is just trying too hard. You constantly feel the strain, and there are enough bad jokes for at least ten “Van Wilder” sequels. The strain is especially evident in Kate McKinnon’s character. Actually, she is not even a character, she’s just a living-breathing quirk who says bizarre things that have nothing to do with anything.
By far, the worst character is Leslie Jones’s Patty Tolan, a subway worker who joins the team in a way so ridiculous even a broad comedy can’t paper over it. The screenwriting is absurdly lazy. But it is also racist. Here we are in The Year of Our Lord 2016, and Jones (who is black) is delegated the feets-don’t-fail-me-now, wisecracking, soul sister role. I was embarrassed for her. Talk about social regression, 32 years ago this wasn’t even done to Ernie Hudson.
As expected, Feig’s disaster has a flaming feminist chip on its shoulder. Every male character is either an asshole, an idiot, or both. Which begs the question: Where in the world does this grudge emanate from? Certainly not the original that gave us Weaver’s classy, independent, sophisticated Manhattan woman and Annie Potts’ knowing, street-smart receptionist.
Don’t even get me started on the villain, a horribly-defined victim of “bullying.”
Signs of desperate and excessive editing are everywhere. Rather than flow along, the story erratically jumps around, especially the bloated, soul-killing climax. If there’s a reason Times Square reverts back to 1972, I must have dozed off.
After walking in expecting to hate them, there are plenty of movies I’ve ended up admiring: Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” “Thelma and Louise,” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Born On the Fourth of July,” are just a few examples. I sincerely want to embrace every movie I see. I am in hopeless love with the movies and there is nothing I want more than to have my expectations shattered for two hours as I am swept away into another world.
When the lights start to dim, I am the easiest lay in the room.
But if the movie sucks, it sucks, and this “Ghostbusters” remake sucks.
P.S. The post-credit scene threatens you with a sequel and with the exception of Dan Aykroyd, the cameos utilizing the original cast are disastrous.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC