Ghostbusters (1984)

I am one of those people—yes, one of those people, as we say when reciting Ed Begley’s wonderfully non-specific bigoted rant from 12 Angry Men—who feels that the original Ghostbusters is, in fact, over-rated. Good, for sure. Funny, yes. And there’s no denying it was a cultural phenomenon, down to Ray Parker’s plagiarized-but-catchy theme. But I remember, at the time, feeling like Bill Murray’s performance was somewhat perfunctory: He’d been doing this schtick in the movies for five years now (longer, if you count his “Saturday Night Live” years), and it feels like he really doesn’t want to be there.

I kid. But it was terrible.
“No, sorry, this the script for The Razor’s Edge.”

A couple of points: First, he really didn’t want to be there. He traded his performance in Ghostbusters to play in the dismal Somerset Maugham adaptation The Razor’s Edge. (The Old Man told me that Tyrone Power had made the same arrangement to make the same movie, with pretty much the same disastrous results, back in the ’40s, but I can’t find any support for that.) The Boy said he felt that was true as well, so I don’t think I’m imagining this.

Second, even half-assed Bill Murray is awful good. If his performance here doesn’t have the same joie de vivre we expect from Murray, there are still few living or dead who could match his timing and delivery.

Overall, the kids felt this was pretty good. Not hilarious. Not the greatest movie ever, omg, which I think is probably because they have by this point seen a lot more of movie history than your average moviegoer (now or in the ’80s), but very solid. It sort of sticks with you with its quotability and its top-notch performances. I mentioned this before in the Spy review but some amount of the humor here is shock value, and that just doesn’t hold up well.

Kind of amazing.
The Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man? Still hot ‘n’ fresh!

What does hold up is Ray and Egon (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, also the screenwriters) and their ridiculously believable mad-science-nerd schtick. Despite the similarities between the two—that kind of Asperger’s-before-there-was-Asperger’s—Ray has a warmer, more childlike sense of wonder, while Egon really does seem devoid of any normal human emotions. Which of course makes him the perfect target for Annie Potts pitch-perfect tough-but-not-unlikable secretary. As I’ve said before, it’s Winston who’s the real Everyman: He’s there to collect a paycheck, for sure, but that doesn’t keep him from being part of the team.

Sigourney Weaver’s Dana manages to keep Murray’s Totally Inappropriate behavior on the charming side of the ledger rather than creepy. I actually was a little surprised how, em, forward he was, but I suppose I’m sensitized by recent events of a Weinsteinian nature. But her 6′ stature makes her appear up to the task of fending off Murray’s puppy dog advances. She, too, is an Everyman, much like Winston, caught up in events she really doesn’t understand and having to reconcile the serious nature thereof against a backdrop of Murray’s comedic mugging.

Rick Moranis was a gem.
I bet they had fun.

Rick Moranis—the kids really liked his performance here and it truly does shine. Apparently, he improvised the whole party scene with the always delightful Jean Kasem. Moranis, who retired when his wife died in the ’90s and he found his kids needed him—pretty awesome, eh?—hits the same perfect pitch as Potts, giving us a kind of hapless character, forever in pursuit of his dreams (which apparently involves Rather Tall Women, and also Big Tax Breaks) who still manages to be lovable.

And, really, every bit of the cast, even the minor roles does two things: Establishes a strong character (without the wacky antics the remake seemed to feel the need for), and also excites a certain sympathy. The librarians, the guy waiting for the elevator, the guy who has to shut off the grid—even the mayor! This is a sort of love song to New York City and a generally benevolent film.

Annie was a big enough start in part 2 to be able to wear a wig rather than chop her hair off.
“Print is dead,” Egon says presciently.

This can pretty clearly be traced to Ivan Reitman. His movies are more or less funny. The earlier ones (like this, Meatballs and Stripes) are probably funnier. All of them, though, have a lot of heart. Evolution is a pretty clear attempt to revitalize the Ghostbusters formula—which, frankly, seems pretty bold given the current approach of just “soft rebooting” them—and while it doesn’t have the same level of laughs by any means, you end up liking the characters portrayed by Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore and the criminally under-rated Sean William Scott. Same for Kindergarten Cop or, hell, My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

It’s this warmth and quasi-believability (as in, “these are real-seeming people”) that carries you through when the jokes don’t land or the laughs don’t last as long as they might. So, despite my seemingly-negative intro, I don’t really have much bad to say about this movie.

Which is nice.
Ready to believe you.

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