Lackluster 'Ghostbusters' Remake Is Worth Seeing For Kate McKinnon
Describing Kate McKinnon's on screen presence in Ghostbusters feels like trying to capture lightning in a bottle from the ACME Corporation. Her eyes seem to beam directly and intensely at every person she makes eye contact with, though they suffer from constant distraction like a puppy. She never sits normally nor stands properly, her legs appearing in places like a set of misguided yoga poses. She mutters dialogue in Shakespearean asides under her breath, but with an acuity that makes them feel like a dare. That is unless she's describing the series of technological doohickeys her character devises; her body and voice suddenly take on the adrenaline rush of a junkie with boyish exasperation flailing out of her body.
McKinnon, whose antics on Saturday Night Live have become legendary, is the primary reason to see Ghostbusters. That isn't to say the rest of the film's cast—Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones—appear without providing numerous laughs, but McKinnon's energy operates on a different planet that never allows the film's needless plot to weigh her down. Bridesmaids Paul Feig takes the reigns of directing this cast as well as co-writing the script with Katie Dippold. Like the buddy cop comedy The Heat (which Dippold wrote) and the CIA spoof Spy, Feig's task is to take a male-dominated genre and paste over the template with his talented set of leading ladies. While those two films played up the sexism in their respective masculine cultures for humor, Ghostbusters actually downplays its gender swap (save for a few choice moments referring to the film's idiotic misogynist backlash) to mostly stay true to a three-act formula with a gigantic action sequence to top it off.
The formula, following a number of the beats from the original 1984 film, follows the four scrappy scientists as they uncover a number of paranormal beings throughout New York City, as well as a conspiracy to unleash them in mass numbers. But why even bother with a plot? All four actresses have improv backgrounds, and Ghostbusters excels when it allows these women to simply hang out in their lab and throw zingers at each other. Wiig's mousy shyness and occasional acrobatic pratfalls plays off McCarthy's high volume, and Jones' intense sass mixed with straight-faced plainness hits even funnier volumes. Whether interacting with the dumb-as-a-doornail secretary played pitch-perfectly by "muscles with baby soft skin" Chris Hemsworth or Cecily Strong as the nervous Nellie mayor's aide, these scenes allow Ghostbusters to generate laughs simply from spontaneity by the cast (especially McKinnon).
But when Ghostbusters attempts to follow the Hollywood action film blueprint—complete with over-the-top special effects, endless cameos and callbacks, and elongated action sequences—it flounders. (That they moved a bizarrely amusing dance sequence to the credits instead demonstrates their poor judgement.) While the film never takes its effects seriously—the blue and green luminous beings pop in cartoonish 3-D—it does take its chance to be an action film seriously, complete with an "epic" soundtrack to underscore the adventure. This is all fine and good, not to mention well-deserved in a system that rarely gives women a chance to do big budget action, but perhaps these actresses deserve better than getting the chance to simply play these established male roles (from a movie that was pretty bad anyways). Bridesmaids succeeded as a series of nonchalant setpieces built around its characters and highlighting women-being-women. Only McKinnon seems to fight off the energy of the plot; when the effects start appearing in full force, her animated presence feels right at home. With Ghostbusters, there's no question that women can rule action comedies. But it's time we start giving them great movies instead.
For another take, please read Eve Batey's review over at SFist!
Ghostbusters is in theaters everywhere.
Peter Labuza is a freelance film critic, whose work has appeared in Variety, Sight & Sound, and The A.V. Club. Follow him on Twitter.