'Ghostbusters' 2016 is pleasant but pointless
Posted August 1, 2016
In a recent column, I confidently predicted the new “Ghostbusters” movie would be the biggest box-office bomb of 2016. That seemed to me like a solid bet, given that the movie was the subject of an unprecedented wave of online fanboy hatred and that the trailers looked decidedly unfunny. My plan was to ignore the movie altogether and be the first to say “I told you so” when it went down in flames.
But then an odd thing happened. The reviews started coming in, and they were almost universally positive. At first, I thought people were overcompensating to push back against the mindless backlash. (So did the fanboys, who posted comments everywhere that it was a conspiracy and that Sony Pictures was paying off critics.) But as I read more and more opinions from people I respect, I started to think that maybe, just maybe, this movie might be pretty good. And thus it was that I found myself on a Tuesday afternoon taking in a “Ghostbusters” matinee.
So what’s my verdict? Mixed. Or, more accurately, mixed up.
I realized there was no way I could view this movie objectively, as the original film was such an iconic part of my youth. It came out shortly before my 16th birthday, so it hit me at precisely the right time for it to lodge itself into my prefrontal cortex from now until doomsday. I was the wiseacre kid who wanted to be as cool and funny as Bill Murray was, and “Ghostbusters” was, for me, the ′80s adolescent How-to Guide to Geek Chic. So, as much as I would like to pretend otherwise, I went into this thing with a sizable chip on my shoulder. “Pretty good” wasn’t going to cut it. This movie was going to have to wow me, and it didn’t.
Yet, surprisingly, I still had a good time, partly because the 2016 “Ghostbusters” is bathed in nostalgia for the 1984 original. Look! There’s Bill Murray! And Annie Potts! And Sigourney Weaver! And Ernie Hudson! And Dan Aykroyd saying, “I ain’t afraid a no ghosts!” There was even a bust of the late Harold Ramis in the hallway. The cameos and callbacks were relentless throughout, so I softened a little in my unreasoning opposition to the reboot, but that wasn’t enough to win me over.
It would have helped if, having brought Bill Murray back for an extended cameo, they had given him something funny to do. But every single one of these cameos was laugh-free. It was as if the producers said, “Look, we know you love the old ‘Ghostbusters,’ as much as we do. In fact, here they are! See? Isn’t this great?” Well, sure, but it’s also sort of pointless. If the only reason to make this film is to give a high-five to the original, then why bother making it at all?
That, really, is the crux of the problem. Sure, the new cast was perfectly adequate to the task of presenting slightly modified versions of the classic film’s comedic beats, and there were enough laughs to make for a pleasant but forgettable afternoon. But this movie had no independent raison d’être, no point of view of its own.
As for the box office, it’s not the Hindenburg-level disaster I anticipated, but it’s probably not going to make its money back, either. Sony executives still insist that, regardless, a sequel is on its way, and the end-credits scene teased the evil ghost from the 1984 film as the next villain, so we can expect another competent retread. That alone ensures that neither this “Ghostbusters” nor its planned sequel will permanently lodge itself into any 16-year-old’s prefrontal cortex.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.