“It’s always the sad, pale ones,” says Melissa McCarthy at one point in Ghostbusters (***). She’s referring to a basement-dwelling loner who’s running around New York attempting to unleash the apocalyptic forces of the afterlife in a disproportionate quest to avenge his own marginalised status in the world. For anyone who’s been following the bizarre, misogynistic trolling of Paul Feig’s all female reboot of the beloved 1984 original, though, this particular plot development can’t help but seem like a sly reference to the more pathetic strain of fanboys out there who use the cover of the internet to vent their misplaced rage at the perceived besmirching of things they once liked as children.
As it happens, the casting provides the only real justification for this reboot. Four of the funniest comic talents currently working, McCarthy, Kirsten Wiig and current Saturday Night Live stars Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones add a freshness that negates the need for some of the more groaning tributes to the original movie that this version of Ghostbusters clearly feels it needs to make.
Still, what’s heartening initially is that none of the new cast here are really playing direct antecedents or counterparts to characters played by Bill Murray et al first time round. Instead Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold build the film around Wiig’s Erin, a talented physicist whose determination to suppress a past interest in the paranormal for the sake of her prestigious university career has cut her off from former best friend Abby (McCarthy). Abby is a fellow scientist who isn’t afraid of acknowledging her belief in ghosts, or using the technological expertise of her oddball nuclear physicist colleague, Jillian (McKinnon), to prove their existence.
The film finds smart, funny ways to team these three up as the titular Ghostbusters, before bringing in Jones’s amateur historian to complete the line-up and sending them on an effects-heavy mission to save the city as spectral activity reaches ever greater levels.
Along the way, the film takes a wry approach to its gender politics, mocking decades of gender stereotyping in movies by objectifying a very game Chris Hemsworth (cast as their dumb blond secretary Kevin), but also critiquing the way society has historically worked against women with some plot turns that celebrate the Ghostbusters’ intelligence, talent, loyalty and no-nonsense competence while denying them credit where it’s due.
There’s no chance of that happening with the cast (McKinnon is particularly good with her oddball delivery and steam-punk outfits). And yet the film as a whole sometimes lets them down. Early on we learn Erin and Abby have co-authored a book on the paranormal entitled Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively. It’s a funny gag, a way of acknowledging the weight of pop culture history needlessly bearing down on this movie, but to subsequently seek tacit approval from the fans and the makers of the original by shoe-horning in seven cameos – some of them pretty egregiously – prevents it from being its own thing. How much better this would have been had it happened without their permission.
Feminism is very much on the agenda in Summertime (***), a tasteful, but stilted love story about a farmer’s daughter who moves to Paris in the early 1970s and falls for a prominent member of a group of women’s rights campaigners. Despite a frank approach to sex and a good performance from Cécile De France as the sophisticated radical feminist who’s less honest about her sexuality than the more straightforward country girl (Izïa Higelin) she takes under her wing, the film still feels oddly dated and bit too prescriptive, particularly as a family crisis forces this couple to make a go of it in the less enlightened environs of rural France.
Keanu (***)finds US sketch comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele making the transition to the big screen in a somewhat daffy parody of the kind of action-heavy revenge movies exemplified by John Wick, which starred this film’s namesake, Keanu Reeves, as a hitman out for vengeance after someone kills his puppy. That’s a pretty niche reference to build an entire movie around, which may be why it takes a while to tune into Key and Peele’s comic wavelength as their mostly square suburbanite characters attempt to rescue their pet kitten after it’s stolen by drug dealers.
Still, even though they’re virtual unknowns in the UK, they’re appealing enough to elevate this beyond being just another wacky stoner comedy.
Given the racial unrest in America over the last couple of weeks, The Hard Stop (****) offers a grim but revealing look at the problem of racial prejudice and policing from a British perspective. George Amponsah’s documentary examines the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan, the outrage over which subsequently sparked the 2011 London riots. Going behind the headlines, the film zeroes in on two of Duggan’s childhood friends, Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, whose fates the film follows in the aftermath of the riots, with the former confronting the consequences of his own part in the unrest and the latter attempting to build a legitimate life for himself in a city with few opportunities. Through their stories, Amponsah builds a more rounded and sensitive picture of both Duggan and the Tottenham estate on which they all grew up – one that puts all of their situations in a useful historic context.
It’s an illuminating, thought-provoking and depressingly timely film.