Cinema: Exercise for Exorcists

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GHOSTBUSTERS Directed by Ivan Reitman Screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Armageddon is not, at first glance, the most promising subject for farce: too big, too scary. Visions of expensively expansive comedies like 1941 and The Blues Brothers, where the jokes got buried under the weight of excessive hardware and special effects, dance in one's head. And Ghostbusters, which deals with nothing less than a mass rising of the unseen world, murderously disgusted with civilization as we know it, especially around New York City. Clearly the movie intends to go after most of the marbles rolling around in the addled modern mind.

The first sign that the end is drawing nigh occurs when a perfectly normal and respectable young woman (Sigourney Weaver) opens her refrigerator door to stow the celery. Instead of confronting yesterday's quiche, she finds herself face to face with the hound of hell, all red-eyed and snappish, with a dreamscape hinting of unspeakable mysteries stretching out behind him. It is here that the film begins to transcend the generic limits of the annual summer giggle fit for the old Saturday Night Live crowd.

Ghostbusters is actually the trade name for a trio of rogue parapsychologists kicked out of academe for conduct unbecoming to scholarship and forced to set up shop as exorcists for hire. Lucky for them that they launch their venture just as the ectoplasmic underworld is about to go on a rampage. Unlucky for them that the Environmental Protection Agency, meddling with their facility for storing captured spirits, lets the damnable things loose. Panic in the streets! And glorious opportunities for political as well as paranormal satire!

Of the ghost wranglers, the pair played by Writers Aykroyd and Ramis are sweetly earnest about their calling, and gracious about giving the picture to their co-star Bill Murray. He obviously (and wisely) regards Dr. Peter Venkman as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop fully his patented comic character.

Shrewd and stupid, sly and blustering, but always coolly gliding to some strong rhythm only he can hear, Venkman is a brilliantly observed caricature of the contemporary urban male. At one point Weaver, representing the reality principle, informs him that he seems less a scientist than a game-show host. But he is a far more amusing figure. He is, in fact, some ultimate Yuppie, seemingly stoned on fern-bar manners, mores and folk wisdom. His utter imperviousness to anything that cannot be comprehended in those basic materialist terms is finally a more potent weapon than all the atomic gadgetry he and his friends carry into their battles with the forces of darkness.

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