• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #72: Peter Venkman


He's about to feel so funky.

Some might argue for Caddyshack, or Groundhog Day, or Stripes or Scrooged or Kingpin. Maybe one of his later, more quirky efforts, like Rushmore or Lost in Translation. But for me, the quintessential Bill Murray, the perfect season of his Hall of Fame career, is Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters. Holder of doctorates in psychology and parapsychology, brass-tongued and hamfisted wooer of women and politicians, brazen self-promoter, lazy, smarmy conman, there's a low charm to Venkman, a kind of adorable adolescent harmlessness to his scheming. Apparently the role was planned for Belushi, and then Chevy Chase and Michael Keaton were considered for the part, but Murray's ragamuffin charisma and weary nonchalance are the perfect canvas for Dr. Venkman.

There are too many great lines to quote them here, but we all know most of them, even thirty years later. Venkman dominates this treasury of quips, strafing the film with staccato bursts of verbal incontinence. Much of it is self-deprecating, childish, shallow, and painfully transparent. I love every word.

The film is a work of comedic genius, Aykroyd and Ramis and Murray at their collective apex. It is a true original, hilarious and smart, managing to skewer bureaucracy and academia and all manner of human endeavor with a sly wink that never tries too hard or takes itself too seriously. This is comedy that nudges social commentary without becoming obsessed with it, that goes for laughs both cheap and sophisticated and nails them every single time. There are virtually no sour notes, no missed jokes in the entire film. Sigourney Weaver's Dana Barrett and Rick Moranis' Lewis Tully are both perfectly cast, the one skeptical and sexy, the other hapless and anxious. Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton, all go after their supporting roles with complete abandon, and it all works.

That anyone would be arrogant enough to attempt a reboot of this perfect piece of artwork is ludicrous, like letting a toddler finger paint over the Mona Lisa. But Hollywood leaves no corpse in peace in its shallow grave-robbing of cultural memory, and so we get this tortured, ill-considered blasphemy of cinema. I suspect the only ghost of a laugh will be directed at those who thought they could tread in such legendary footsteps.

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