Ghostbusters review: “uninspired, bland and lame-brained”

Who you gonna call? Not Paul Feig, it seems, who lays on the witless scares in this gender-swapped comedy reboot

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★★

It boasts four comedy stars at the top of their game and a director fresh from revolutionising contemporary comedy, but this reboot of one of the biggest hits in the comedy fantasy arena is uninspired, bland and lame-brained. 

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It’s worse than expected because writer/director Paul Feig’s screenplay is a laughter-free zone, as superficial as they come, and makes the mistake of paying too much homage to past glories – except in replicating the basic charm, goofy eccentricity and zany irreverence of the template created by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd.

OK, their fondly remembered 1984 original film is hardly sacred text you meddle with at your peril. But surely this movie warranted more care, so as not to completely trash the memory of that beloved paranormal rollercoaster ride. 

While gender-swapping the four main leads was a good initial concept to kick-start Feig’s phantasm fiasco, it seems that all innovation stopped there, and a lazy narrative loaded with quick-fire gags that barely hit their targets, bloated special effects and the usual schtick from bickering Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig were considered enough of a substitute.

Quite how Abby (McCarthy), Erin (Wiig), Jillian (Kate McKinnon) and Patty (Leslie Jones) – the latter two key Saturday Night Live players – get together involves an overlong explanation about the first three being disgraced academics believing in the supernatural to varying degrees and Patty walking out of her subway job in order to face her fears. 

Together they become the eponymous spook-exterminators, searching the city in their converted hearse, the Ecto Mobile, for apparitions to eradicate with their arsenal of sci-fi weaponry. New York mayor Andy Garcia thanks them in private but derides them in public so as not to scare the population too much.

When all the random spectral events get tied together by the quartet (one at an Ozzy Osbourne concert), the trail leads to disaffected Rowan (Neil Casey), a janitor at the infamous Mercado Hotel. He has been building up a basement full of mirror-trapped evil spirits ready to cross over into the real world to begin the Fourth Cataclysm. 

Not that Ghostbusters is remotely funny up to this point, but any vestige of humour – or sense – is completely jettisoned in the endless noisy climax. Cue panoramic shots of Manhattan teeming with ghouls, phantom collisions, poltergeist pile-ups, ghoulish goings on, Macy’s Parade characters coming to life (including the Marshmallow Man), Slimer reborn and the famous logo image turning Godzilla-size and stomping everything in its path. Phew! If only it added up to something more than too much CGI desperation, which barely hangs together.

For some reason all this takes place in a time shift to 1974 where Times Square is advertising Bruce Lee movies, Taxi Driver, Boris Karloff in Snake People and the rat movie Willard. And when Abby and Erin return from the pit of hell wearing white wigs, it becomes clear that everything and the kitchen sink has been thrown in to deflect attention from the fact that no one had any idea where to take this reconception once past the feminine switch. A few sideswipes to social media and the hatred engendered by the news of this remake don’t really cut it, either.

Ghostbusters is actually perfectly summed up by the part Chris Hemsworth plays. He’s Kevin, the spectre squad’s hunky bimbo secretary, who covers his eyes not to hear, wears spectacles with no lenses (so he doesn’t have to clean them) and has a dog named Mike Hat (four candles, anyone!). Every scene Hemsworth disgraces falls flat as a pancake, even when he gets possessed by Rowan to ensure he figures somewhere in the overblown fireworks finale to justify his salary. Even knowing cameos from original stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver, joined by Charles Dance and Ed Begley Jr, can’t save proceedings. 

The final line in the movie is, amazingly, “It isn’t so terrible, is it?” What were they thinking? Sorry ladies, yes it is.

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Ghostbusters is in cinemas now