2.5 stars (out of 4)
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, you already know to call the Ghostbusters. Heck, everyone knows. That’s why any remake of the 1984 paranormal classic is destined to disappoint.
But the all-female Ghostbusters (opening Friday July 15) has seemed both haunted and doomed from the moment it was announced. And it's not fair. The four super-funny stars — Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones — should not have to defend a poorly edited two-minute trailer or their roles in the movie. In 2016, any actress has the right to play any part. The Ghosbusters are beloved everyman heroes, but come on: Kristen Wiig isn't exactly taking on Moses in The Ten Commandments.
Besides, they are not to blame for a pointless, harmless and mildly funny effort that will leave most moviegoers shrugging their shoulders and musing, “well, at least it’s better than Ghostbusters 2.”
This is a straight-up reboot, by the way. The film is set in a New York City where Bill Murray's Peter Venkman and his cohorts never discovered Zuul. So bookish Erin (Wiig), a professor up for tenure at Columbia University, hides the fact that she and her estranged childhood friend Abby (McCarthy) once wrote a book about the very real existence of ghosts. And Abby, a scientist, doesn’t tell anyone that she and a kooky engineer Jillian (McKinnon) are working in some sort of paranormal lab.
After a slimy encounter at a historical mansion, the ladies decide to go into business together to capture ghosts. (It’s a damn shame Ghost Hunters is hoarding their turf, McCarthy vents. And those ghosts aren’t even real!). They set up shop above an old Chinese restaurant, hire a himbo assistant (Chris Hemsworth, hilarious) to answer the phones and get ready to save the world. They even nab a client-turned-recruit in Patty, (Jones), a street-smart transit worker who swore she saw a green thing on the subway tracks wants a chance to nab the little sucker herself.
To reiterate, the gender-bending gimmick is not the issue. The women are all alluring wonders able to strap on a proton pack and ogle Hemsworth with aplomb. McCarthy is the driving force: In a comedic relay team of Saturday Night Live-bred stars, she’s the bring-home-the-gold anchor. (Not surprisingly, she’s also the best actress of the bunch; McKinnon in particular slips into her cocky Hillary Clinton impression one too many times). Razor-thin character development is no match for their natural warm friendship.
The ladies' most impressive talent, however, is their ability to overcome a lazy script that takes forever to get going. Coscreenwriter-director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) feels the need to hit every familiar Ghostbusters beat, down to the “look, our business is booming!” montage. Instead of nailing a ghost at a high-profile hotel, they do it at a raucous Ozzfest concert. Jones must literally carry the movie's best sight gag on her shoulders; the rest of the jokes are hit-and-miss one-liners — including a self-referential dig at online fanboy haters. (After McCarthy uploads a video on YouTube, an anonymous commenter whines,“ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts." Ouch!)
The equally uninspired action sequences lead to a special effects-heavy nonsensical apocalyptic climax, which, in all fairness, isn’t any more ridiculous than the Stay Puft Marshamallow Man stomping around NYC. But when the quickie visual of a female Slimer riding shotgun in a taxi is the stand out amid the big-budget destructive chaos, clearly something has gone wrong.
Indeed, how telling that the heartiest laughs come courtesy of the throwback winks to the original. It's akin to watching the LOL version of Star Wars: The Force Awakens: No matter how much you like Rey, you’re going to cheer when Princess Leia pops up on screen. In this case, Annie Potts = Chewbacca. The Firehouse = The Millennium Falcon. Ray Parker Jr. = John Williams. Though Feig included the nods as a way to pay homage, the nostalgia just hammers home the point that no reboot can possibly top the real deal. After all, old-fashioned bustin’ will always make us feel good.
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