Film Review: Ghostbusters

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig & Co. ably fill the jumpsuits of their ghostbusting forbears, but the overkill of the production lets them down.
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The 2016 reboot (reboo?) of the 1984 comedy blockbuster Ghostbusters has been besieged by an inane, sexist troll campaign bemoaning the “outrage” of casting this iconic movie romp with a quartet of female leads. But the dynamic combo of talented comic actresses Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon isn’t the deficit here; it’s the material they’ve been handed by writer-director Paul Feig and his writing partner, Katie Dippold. Feig has been a crusader for the cause of women in comedy with his back-to-back-to-back hits Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, but despite a number of amusing moments, his latest suffers from a severe case of summer bloat.

The film gets off to an appropriately creepy start with a pre-credits scene reminiscent of the original’s library haunting, this time set in a historic mansion. Then we’re introduced to staid Columbia University professor Erin Gilbert (Wiig), who’s outraged when she learns that a book she wrote about paranormal activity is being promoted on the Internet by her long-estranged co-author, cut-rate researcher Abby Yates (McCarthy). When Abby and her zany inventor partner Holtzmann (McKinnon) learn that Abby has been approached about the strange occurrences at the Aldridge Mansion, they coax her into an exploratory visit—where Erin comes face-to-face (and is slimed by) the spirit of Mrs. Ames. And thus, the Ghostbusters enterprise is launched.

Erin, Abby and Holtzmann are soon joined by Patty Tolan (Jones), a New York City transit worker who has her own scary encounter on the subway tracks and brings her knowledge of Manhattan lore to the group. Their main nemesis is Rowan North (Neil Casey), a demented loner who’s masterminded a device that unleashes supernatural forces for his vision of the apocalypse. Also entirely unhelpful are the Mayor and his assistant (Andy Garcia and Cecily Strong), who keep conspiring to cover up the city’s spectral intrusions and make the women look like irresponsible wackos. It all climaxes in an overlong, overblown, widespread ectoplasmic assault that triples down with modern CGI on the goofy wonder of that giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the original, to very diminished effect (aka the Zack Snyder curse).

Arguably the high point of the film occurs midway, at a rock concert where the oblivious fans think the monstrous apparition that’s appeared is part of the show. To its credit, the film does deliver the occasional authentic scare (just as Feig brought a real espionage-movie vibe to Spy), and the brightly colored beams that emanate from the women’s proton guns are a blast in 3D.

McCarthy and Wiig are very engaging and gifted comedians, but their brainiac characters here are more muted than their usual madcap roles; both seem to be ceding the spotlight to their supporting sisters, current “Saturday Night Live” players Jones and McKinnon, in their first major big-screen roles. Although Jones’ transit worker at first seems a subservient part, she soon establishes an equal footing with her fellow ghostbusters through sheer brash confidence and her way with a cheeky one-liner. And the co-stars might consider suing McKinnon for petty theft: Her Holtzmann is an eccentric genius who seems to delight in chaos, reflected in the crazed expressions that draw your eye in every shot of the foursome.

One, of course, one can’t forget Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, the shockingly dimwitted and incompetent receptionist the women hire purely on the basis of his beefcake looks. It’s the movie’s payback for all those years of the male gaze and objectified women, but the running joke overstays its welcome.

The film bows to the original with cameos from 1984 cast members Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Bill Murray—the latter cast in a stuffy skeptic role that reminds us how much an equivalent of his dry way with a wisecrack is missed here. Ghostbusters also acknowledges the Internet snarkiness surrounding the project, most pointedly when the women come across an online comment declaring, “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts.” In fact, McCarthy, Wiig & Co. are up to the challenge; what they should have hunted was a more satisfying script.

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