(On Cable TV, February 2017) I’m not that much of a Ghostbusters (1984) fan, so the news of a gender-swapped reboot didn’t trouble me much beyond my usual “eh, I’d much prefer if they did original movies”. The reactionary nerd rage at the film’s release was troubling insofar as was a reflection of the current unhealthy outrage culture—but let’s face it: people who get worked up about a female Ghostbusters movie are exactly the kinds of people who wake up every day being offended at anything that makes them uncomfortable. Given the track records of movie reboots, it was almost a given that the end result would be a mildly entertaining piece of fluff. So it is: This Ghostbusters (2016) is a technically accomplished but far more mechanistic version of the 1984 original. Both Kirsten Wiig and Melissa McCarthy play up to their persona in the movie, although McCarthy seems thankfully more restrained in a movie in which entire sequences are storyboarded for special effects. Wiig is up to her usual neurotic persona, which works relatively well here. The same can be said for Leslie Jones, likable in a stock role. The real surprise here, though, is Kate McKinnon, stealing nearly every scene as an eccentric scientist—again, it’s not an original character, but she makes it work. Meanwhile, Chris Hemsworth probably gets the biggest laughs as a scatterbrained hunk. Director Paul Feig keeps getting better every movie, and if his style is still generally bland, he’s able to keep up with the demands of a special-effects-driven production. His conscious decision to avoid glamorizing his character works well, even if some other intentions—such as limply incorporating original 1984 cast members—end up being more irritating than anything else. The upshot is a generally watchable film, even if it never steps too far away from the original film or from the basic special-effects-driven comedy template. This Ghostbusters is all surface and flash, with minimal character work and even shallower thematic concerns. It’ll do for an evening’s worth of entertainment, but I have a hunch that the original will remain the definitive edition.
(Video on Demand, October 2015) By now, the Bond spy film formula has been spoofed, lampooned and deconstructed so often (even within the Bond series) that Bond-parodies have become a sub-genre in themselves. Spy arrives in this crowded field with a few advantages: Melissa McCarthy may have a divisive comic persona, but she’s absolutely shameless in getting whatever laughs she can, and when you have the production budged to get both Jude Law and Jason Statham as comic foils, it’s already a step up from the usual B-grade effort. So it is that director Paul Feig tries his damnedest to deliver a polished Bond parody, and does score a good number of laughs along the way. His action scenes may not be as good as they could be (although there is a pretty good kitchen fight late in the film) but Spy does have a reasonable veneer of big-budget polish. McCarthy isn’t entirely annoying as a CIA desk agent compelled to become a field operative, but Jason Statham steals the show as an insane and ineffective parody of the kind of action hero he often plays. (Rose Byrne and Peter Serafinowicz also shine in smaller roles.) Otherwise, Spy gets a lot of mileage out of combining puerile humor with its spy subject matter, although the deconstruction/reconstruction mechanism is very familiar by now. It does feel a bit long (something that probably wasn’t helped by seeing the slightly-longer and more digressive “unrated version”) but there is a decent amount of plot to go with the improvised jokes. While Spy doesn’t break as much tradition as it thinks it does, it remains a decent comedy, a fair showcase for McCarthy and a step up for Feig, whose direction seems to improve slightly with every film.
(On Cable TV, August 2014) It’s almost liberating to realize, shortly into a film, that you’re not the target audience. It’s a realization that frees you from the burden of trying to like the movie: Once you realize it’s aimed at someone else, you can become as dismissive as you can. So it is that comedy The Heat is really aimed at another kind of audience. While I’m left uncharmed by Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, I can remind myself that the movie is for someone else. I can criticize the dumb humor, unlikable characters, simplistic plot points and lazy witless approach and who’s going to stop me? The movie is made for someone else. Overlong, repetitive and unnecessarily gruesome? Not. For. Me. I can find peace with The Heat as long as I remind myself that I shouldn’t be watching it. This isn’t meant to be a solid procedural cop drama: it’s a high-concept (Bullock reprising Miss Congeniality! McCarthy being as rude and foul as she can be!) executed just well enough by director Paul Feig to ensure that the target audience feels that it got what it wanted. It turns out that I like McCarthy a lot less in lead roles than in supporting turns such as Bridesmaids, and the tonal problems with the script frankly pale besides its unpleasant atmosphere. I suppose that I should feel satisfied that this is a female takeover of a typically masculine film genre. I should probably be happy that a performer as unorthodox as McCarthy gets a big leading role. But somehow, as The Heat plays out, I’m left out in the cold and unsatisfied by the results. But, oh yes, this isn’t for me.