“Ghostbusters Answer the Call”
“Ghostbusters Answer the Call”
directed by Paul Feig
written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig
characters by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
acted by Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Matt Walsh, Nate Corddry
released by Columbia Pictures
rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor
running time: 117 minutes
by Bill Stamets
How does the “Ghostbusters” of 2016 differ from the “Ghostbusters” of 1984? Motives are added. Two busters of ghosts get a backstory this time. Also imbued with motivation– the disgruntled liberator of said ghosts. Once again, New York City is at risk and a tech-savvy foursome will thwart evil entering en masse through a spooky portal– just like the latest installment of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
“Ghostbusters Answer the Call” employs a new cohort of Saturday Night Live comics– Melissa McCarthy (a four-time guest host appearing in 28 sketches), Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong– to replace selected male predecessors from that NBC series. Directing the mouthy McCarthy for the fourth time, Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids,” “The Heat, “Spy”) here reigns her in as team leader Abby, co-author of “Ghosts from the Past, Both Literally and Figuratively: A Study of the Paranormal.”
Abby’s estranged high school pal Erin (Kristen Wiig)– up for tenure at Columbia University– vainly denies that’s her byline and headshot on the jacket. To refute her lie that she only co-authored that 460-pager as a joke, the tenure committee chairman reads her the first sentence: “This is not a joke.” Erin’s career as a physicist is unplugged. Swapping out Ivy League tweeds for an accessorized MTA jumpsuit, Wiig wields her signature sly lines with downward averted glances to deliver a nuanced paranormal researcher.
SNL’s Kate McKinnon plays Jillian Holtzmann. This is the most out-of-the-box one in this “fully rebooted for a new generation” film– to pile on overworked cliches. She is a handy engineer in experimental particle physics. She signed on as Abby’s lab sidekick while Erin was off seeking tenure. I wish the true weirdness of Jillian’s lines came through. Several of her off-centered shots feel too short to register her originality.
Leslie Jones, another SNL cast member, plays Patty, the non-physicist in the chromosomally XX-quartet. She relocates from her subway booth at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to the Ghostbusters office above a Chinese restaurant. She brings to the game her historical knowledge of New York City– “I read a lot of nonfiction”– whenever the script calls for local exposition. Although “Ghostbusters Answer the Call” recycles a peek at the iconic Alma Mater sculpture on Columbia University campus, Feig shoots in Boston and its environs. For the original film, only exteriors were lensed in New York City, including Hook & Ladder 8 fire station on N. Moore St.
Over-rated by nostalgists, the 1984 “Ghostbusters” directed by Ivan Reitman was co-scripted by SNL vet Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis. Ackroyd and Reitman are among the 13 producers of the 2016 film. Nowadays Ackroyd is diversifying as a peddler of peddle wine, vodka and tequila spirits. “For Harold Ramis” appears on the screen at the end of this slightly better remake co-scripted by Feig and Katie Dippold.
The first “Ghostbusters” had unclever nonsense like “The possibilities are unlimitless,” a line delivered by Ackroyd’s character Ray. “Ghostbusters Answer the Call” starts smart with a tour guide (Zach Woods) at an historic mansion “featuring every luxury, including a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence.” Another tidbit: “It’s said in this very room P.T. Barnum first had the idea to enslave elephants. Follow me.”
For physics input on props, Feig’s crew called on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology post-doc in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science linked to the Hadronic Physics Group that specializes in electroweak interactions and non-perturbative quantum chromodynamics. Not that any dialogue quotes any real physicists or metaphysicists. Ley lines– the topic of those notebooks stacked on the kitchen table in “Midnight Special”– do make an appearance in the plot.
A trope from horror films is introduced then dropped. Satanic verses and icons in a daytime(?) heavy metal concert apparently(?), accidentally(?) cue supernatural incursions of ghosts from the other side. The Ghostbusters are called but no comic commentary ensues. Daniel Ramis, a son of Harold, is credited in this scene as “Metal Head.”
“So how did y’all get into ghosts?” Patty asks Abby and Erin. Feig and Dippold designate this fourth ghostbuster on the squad as a conduit for backstory. Erin explains: “When I was eight-years-old the mean old lady who lived next door died.” Her ghost stood at the foot of her bed “for almost a year.” Years of therapy followed. Mean classmates heard about it and mocked her as the “Ghost Girl.” Abby transferred their junior year. She alone believed Erin.
“So now we’re the Ghost Girls?” Patty says, after seeing their efforts mocked by a TV newscaster. “I feel your pain, Erin.”
Their nemesis– let’s call him Ghost Boy– is Rowan (Neil Casey), a crazed advocate of the Fourth Cataclysm. This embittered janitor hides his evil super-technology underneath the hotel where he fixes toilets and unnerves guests. Rowan’s psychic wounds evoke Erin’s, to a degree. Into a mirror, he soliloquizes: “You have been bullied your entire life. Now you will be the bully… And the universe shall bend before your will.” He schemes to open a portal to unleash millions of disgruntled ghosts into New York City.
A climactic CGI set piece of ghosts versus busters ensues. Note the out-of-place shots of “War is Over” signs in the background. Feig stages a spectral Thanksgiving parade of ominous balloon characters, including a leggy Uncle Sam. Is he repurposing the chaotic parade of unconscious manifestations in Satoshi Kon’s animated “Paprika” from 2007? Spoiler: busters win, ghosts lose, city saved. But is there validation by the mean disbelievers?
Turn on the television. “The big question is: Was it the four women who refer to themselves as Ghostbusters who actually thwarted the attack?” wonders a newscaster. “We may never know.” One of the four watches and shares this with her sister Ghostbusters: “Well, we know how Batman feels.”
So do Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of The Shadows,” directed by Dave Green and released on June 3rd.
“Let’s just say we’re four brothers from New York who hate bullies and love this city,” one declares after rescuing the city with no recognition, as usual in this franchise. At the end a TV newscaster offers a wrap-up: “However, questions remain about last week’s events. What was that threat from the sky and how exactly was it averted? But the bigger question is: Does it even matter?”
Yes it sure does, answers “Ghostbusters Answer the Call.” New York City’s skyline shines with affirmative messages of thanks spelled out in lighted windows. The intrepid foursome seek gratitude and get it. The Mayor and Homeland Security cheer. Research funding pours in.
As mid-summer mainstream entertainment, “Ghostbusters Answer the Call” affords two hours of air-conditioning. A July 28, 1919 Tribune ad for a Balaban & Katz movie palace touted: “Our Freezing Plant Removes the Temper from Temperature.” Intemperate describes a plethora of fanboy posts attacking female casting in Feig’s remake. The bizarre flaming began so long ago Feig could work it into the finished film. One ghostbuster reads aloud this post on their site: “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts.”
Sociological curiosity about this sideshow of flames, counter-flames, and threads of fretting over the same are insufficient reason to see “Ghostbusters Answer the Call.” Nor are cameos by Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, Ozzy Osbourne, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver from 1984. But the 2016 version is more than adequate to accompany your tub of popcorn and wafting Siberian Zephyrs.
A second spoiler. Should you decide not to sit through all of the end credits, here’s the very last line: “What’s Zul?” Summer fare such as “Transformers” and “Independence Day” always teases more threats out there to come. Nothing to see here, not this time, for you seekers of subtexts about extra-judicial detection, confinement or liquidation of supernatural trespassers, interdimensional interlopers, alien invaders, immigrants or terrorists.