In Ghostbusters: Moranis plays Louis Tully, the wimpy accountant living next to Dana Barrett in an apartment building constructed as a conduit for demons. In the first film, we see him whenever he pops out of his apartment to say hello to Dana. Inevitably, he locks himself out. Eventually, Moranis gets to shine while hosting a cocktail party. He flits between guests, dropping uncouth information about new arrivals as if that's what a host is supposed to do. Soon there is a growl from his bedroom, allowing Moranis to utter a line for the ages: "Oookay, who brought the dog?"
It gets ugly from there for Louis Tully, who is posessed by the dog and becomes the Key Master. One of the movie's gags comes from the odd pairing of short, stooped Moranis and the tall, statuesque Sigourney Weaver. Seeing them make out while posessed on a pile of rubble is exceptionally funny. The whole posession thing sets up one of Louis's great little punchlines in the sequel, in which Tully defends the Ghostbusters in court:
Your Honor, ladies and gentleman of the audience, I don't think it's fair to call my clients frauds. Sure, the blackout was a big problem for everybody. I was trapped in an elevator for two hours and I had to make the whole time. But I don't blame them. Because one time I turned into a dog and they helped me. Thank you.
In the sequel, Moranis gets even more to work with. Louis gets the girl (Janine Melnitz!) and he gets credit for saving the world at the end of the movie. Moranis's performance in the court-room sequence is great comedy. He stumbles over every legal convention ("My guys are still under a judicial mistrangement order -- that blue thing I got from her!"). It's very winning. Moranis took Woody Allen's stock character from the '70s and turned up the volume and the anxiety for the '80s. It worked. It works.
The biographical rundown: After starting as a player on SCTV, Moranis spent most of the '80s and '90s as a sort-of movie star. Ghostbusters propelled him to starring roles in successful vehicles like Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs, Parenthood, Honey I Shrunk the Kid and its sequels. His wife died of liver cancer in 1991. He gave up the movies in 1997 to focus entirely on his kids. And then he reinvented himself as a singer-songwriter. Take a look at this. Yep, that's Louis Tully doing his best John Mellencamp pose. Moranis was nominated for a Grammy in 2006. Make sure to read this profile from The Independent, which has this nice biographical nugget midway through: How the now 53-year-old actor ended up quitting a successful movie career, writing and recording a colourful collection of country songs, and latterly penning comment pieces for The New York Times, is a tale that has its roots in tragedy.
The profile also goes on to say Moranis has an "obscenely spacious" apartment overlooking Central Park. I find this oddly comforting. I don't know why. I'm just glad he's not a washed-up actor renting a bungalow in Venice Beach. This man made a conscious decision to change his life, though he still has the spoils of his career to keep him comfortable.
What's it all mean? It means that another Ghostbusters needs Louis Tully. And maybe Rick Moranis needs another Ghostbusters. Yes, he has sworn off acting. But to be back in the improvisational arena with Murray and Aykroyd and Ramis? I hope there's a part for him in the script, and I hope it lures him out. And it's not just me who wants to see him again:
Monday: Ernie Hudson. Upcoming: Bill Murray, Annie Potts, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver.