Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ghost Busters (1984) **

The thing about “Ghostbusters” is that it was an absolute meg-hit. There’s nothing you can say about this movie that will change the fact that it is a defining piece of 1980’s pop-culture. Every English-speaking person of a certain age knows what you mean if you say “Cross the streams,” or “I am the Gatekeeper; are you the Keymaster?” I am honestly curious, however, if the movie holds any relevance at all for people outside my generation. The question is, should people who are now in their teens and twenties be renting and watching this film? Having recently re-watched it, I can’t really think of a reason that they should.

The basic plot is that a few guys start a ghost-catching business right when paranormal activity in New York city is going through the roof due to the impending resurrection of some Sumerian god of destruction named Gozer. They wind up doing battle with Gozer to save the earth, or at least New York (That part is never made perfectly clear.) What the film is really about, however, is Bill Murray’s dry humor, which is an unfortunate fit for an action comedy. The actor who was so brilliant in “Quick Change” and “Groundhog Day” is actually just kind of annoying in “Ghost Busters.” He is meant to be full of rakish, anti-authoritarian charm, but there is no depth to his character. He starts out as a complete fraud, milking the field of the paranormal for money and chicks, and he winds up saving humanity. There is never any moment of transformation, though, no personal crisis. His actions as the hero and the romantic lead feel contrived and inevitable, as does the whole film, barreling along as it does from action sequence to comic interlude and back again. There is no time, of course, to develop the characters played by Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, or Ernie Hudson, the other ghostbusters. They serve merely to bolster Murray’s character as he woos Sigourney Weaver and, you know, does that saving the earth thing.

Sigourney Weaver, thank God, provides one of the few bright lights in the film, supplying a character with a modicum of real humanity, and serving as the emotional center of the movie. As the comic center of “Ghost Busters” I would nominate not Bill Murray or Dan Akroyd, but Rick Moranis. Moranis takes his biggest role up to that time and runs with it as Sigourney Weaver’s nerdy across-the-hall neighbor.

Those two good performances aside, my experience of re-watching “Ghost Busters” did not live up to my memories of the film. That should be no surprise. I first saw it in theatres, as a teenager. Of course, there are movies that I loved then that I still love, like the first Indiana Jones movie, “Die Hard,” and “The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonsai.” It isn’t that I couldn’t appreciate something good back then, I just had more tolerance for lazy, formulaic crap at that age. These days I know that with almost 100 years of film to choose from, there is no reason to settle for crap.

2 stars

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