Movie Review: New ‘Ghostbusters’ are more lively than the ghosts

Reviewed by: Nathan Bartlebaugh

Movie Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (Mildly Recommended)

On the long and perilous road to another Ghostbusters movie, the new, all-female cast found themselves temporarily trapped in a loathsome other-world purgatory full of predatory, disembodied phantoms that nearly scuttled their arrival. Yes, I’m talking about the internet, which erupted into an unexpected and tiresome debate last winter over the validity of this most recent reboot, most of it focused on whether geeks of a certain age would accept females busting ghosts and engaging in the same shenanigans their male counterparts did thirty years earlier.

That entire fracas was greatly overblown and exploited by Sony, who was no doubt hoping to ride some of the controversies to a box-office victory. A shame then, that so much energy and heartache was put into a back-and-forth on whether Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones (as the new owners of those fancy-schmancy proton packs) were up to snuff, because now that the finished product is here, it’s clear that the girls are perfectly capable of stepping into those unflattering jumpsuits; it’s the rest of the movie that feels a bit like a ghost of its former self.

For the most part, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is exactly what any reasonable person expected it to be; a light-hearted and often too-reverent rehash of all the touchstones and kitschy visual identifiers that studios thought made the first film great. In and of itself, this Ghostbusters a fun and frothy little movie that actually benefits from comparison to a soggier-than-usual summer line-up that hasn’t really provided much in the way of giddy joy sans clunky spectacle. What it isn’t is fresh or inventive, which are the two qualities that actually did set the 1984 movie (although, not it’s sequel) apart in the 80’s comedy sweepstakes.

It’s difficult to remember now, but 30 some years ago, on that first go-through, no one expected the Lovecraftian menace that was Gozer the Gozerian to show up as, respectively, a bubble-encrusted, stiletto-wearing diva and a blundering, Godzilla-sized Staypuft Marshallow Man. There’s never a bait and switch of that caliber in the new movie, whose biggest joke is that the crew’s new secretary, Kevin (a dependably hunky Chris Hemsworth), is dim-witted eye candy who often makes pithy, philosophical observations like ‘An aquarium is a submarine for fish’.

Most of the old cast do appear in cameos not related to their previous roles (there is an even a heartwarming early shout-out to dearly departed Harold Ramis) and the most iconic of the ghosts do get some face-time here or there (including Staypuft), but this new installment feels far more content to coast on the energy that it’s four main leads churn up onscreen than it is to create a suitably creative new mythology for its universe.

If anything, most of Ghostbusters feels thematically designed after its controversy–the main antagonist is a living, (mouth)breathing basement dwelling loner who wants to eradicate all of humanity for not realizing his true brilliance. If that’s not the perceived definition of an internet troll, I don’t know what is.  The rest of the plot is firmly focused on Wigg’s Erin and McCarthy’s Abby trying to find repudiation and acceptance for their paranormal proclivity. An initial reaction to their first ghost capture on YouTube contemptuously stating “Aint no b**ches be busting ghosts’ feels like it might have been literally copied and pasted from a comments sections below the movie’s first trailer.

Again,all of this distracts from the best part of the movie; the ghostbusters themselves. McCarthy and Wiig are doing their usual comedy schtick–both of which have grown slightly staler than Murray and Akroyd’s were at the time the first film was made–but their chemistry together in the face of the supernatural menace works. Leslie Jones is likable and charming as the subway booth attendant who has a stunning historical understanding of New York City. The stand-out is McKinnon’s Holtzmann who feels like she leapt straight out of ‘The Real Ghostbusters’, the animated tv series inspired by the original movies.

In fact, the constantly mugging McKinnon actually boasts the animated Egon’s quirky blond swish while evoking a more manic, eccentric version of Ramis sardonic live-action take. Look at any given shot of this movie and you’ll find McKinnon going into comedy over-drive; she lip-synchs to DeBarge’s ‘Rhythm of the Night’, hilariously quotes Glenda the Good Witch during a climactic moment, and has a spectacular supernatural showdown that is the closest this movie comes to Ghostbusters’ super-fan wish-fulfillment. It’s a tight-rope comedy performance but it works wonderfully; McKinnon is constantly moving lips, eyebrows, or nose in such a playfully suggestive way that she dares you to come along, even when everything has gotten completely silly.

And silly Ghostbusters definitely is. The template for the film harkens more to the cartoon series in style and structure than it does the movies. It has a few fine chuckles, but the ghosts themselves are not original enough and, with one early exception, completely non-threatening. There’s a flying gargoyle at a rock show, another creepy female apparition, and a towering evil menace, but none of them–or the story they are in–register enough. At the end of the day, for all of the bellyaching, it’s the ladies that make this one even worth stepping foot in the theater for.

Ghostbuster is now playing in wide release.

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