Friday, July 17, 2009

1989 Rewind: Ghostbusters II

I'm just going to go ahead and say it: I like Ghostbusters II. Yes, it's so derivative of the first, unbelievably superior film that I didn't even bother writing a review for that one since I'd re-cover too much ground, but that just goes to show that the first was so good even a shameless retread is worth watching.

Even though I like the film, I must recognize that the first 10 minutes border on the insulting. It's not like Ghostbusters established much of a mythos -- though it did spawn a beloved cult cartoon -- but Ramis devotes the early parts of the film to shamelessly expositional dialogue to explain all of the stuff that happened in the interim between films. I don't believe that a comedy film shouldn't have plot, but why on Earth must we sit through hearing about Dana's (Sigourney Weaver) break-up with Peter, her marriage to that musician dude and their divorce, not to mention how the Ghostbusters are somehow now kaput despite a hero's welcome at the end of the last film? And don't even get me started on Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) showing up at a kid's birthday party for some desperately needed cash only to dance to the actual Ghostbusters theme song.

Its plot, though clearly strung together to allow for bits and witticisms, actually works. It takes some contrived steps to make the Ghostbusters the underdogs again -- the city of New York served them with a restraining order from catching ghosts after all the collateral damage they caused last time -- but it lets them essentially stick to all of the character traits the actors hammered out so well the first film. Now they must contend with a mysterious slime filling the tunnels and a painting containing the soul of a 17th century tyrant seeking to become corporeal again by possessing Dana's baby.

Really though, Ghostbusters II, like the previous film, is all about the cast. Hudson gets the fewest lines, but his presence is necessary to give this group a working man feel as opposed to a group of nerdy, irresponsible scientists. Ramis and Aykroyd throw this off a bit by telling one too many nerd jokes, which go beyond the cheeky, literate humor of the first and into hoping that the audience will laugh at that which they do not understand. Nevertheless, they have enough peevish delight in them to give the characters a certain endearing dopey quality. Rick Moranis, who nearly stole the show the first time, has a bigger part and manages to add some dimensions to his bashful fool. When he tosses out a line like "Well, I used to have a roommate, but my mom moved to Florida" without a shred of irony, you know you've struck gold.

Of course, it's Murray, who crystallized everything that would make him BILL MURRAY in the first film, who carries the film as he scores hit after hit as the drier-than-the-Sahara Peter Venkman. He broke up with Dana because of commitment issues, but you get the feeling he did it just so he could keep chasing her. Every single word that flies from his lips has that glorious and utterly inimitable combination of an abyss of cynicism and a boyish gleam. There's a reason why his collaborations with Ramis remain so rewarding: they were the perfect fit. When Egon investigates Dana's apartment and clinically says, "I'd like to run some gynecological exams on the mother," no one on Earth but Murray could deliver Peter's response, "Who wouldn't?" and make it even funnier than it is on paper.

As with the previous film, Ghostbusters II climaxes with an over-the-top effect that's as hysterical as it is thrilling. The Statue of Liberty gag would be seen as absurd and narrative-killing in any other feature, but how exactly do you jump the shark on a franchise that previously featured a giant, killer marshmallow? I find myself laughing almost continuously through the scene, and the overly action-y showdown at the end does little to detract from the laughs.

Despite great scenes like this and assured acting from the returning cast, Ghostbusters II still suffers from stale rewrites and some dialogue that's just too straight-faced for its own good. Peter MacNicol also grates as the skittish foreign servant of Vigo, while Kurt Fuller's mayoral assistant reeks too strongly of the EPA agent from the previous film. Having said all that, I still enjoy the film. Where Ghostbusters is a stone-cold classic, this sequel is more of a rainy day movie to lazily pop in when you finish the first film and want just a bit more Venkman. And who out there doesn't want more Venkman?

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