Ghostbusters (2016)

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/14/16 11:37:44

"I Went! I Saw! It Kicks Ass!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

About a year ago, I found myself interviewing filmmaker Paul Feig just before he set off to make his next movie, a long-gestating remake of the 1984 comedy smash “Ghostbusters” that he had the audacity to conceive as a vehicle driven by a predominantly female cast. Shockingly, this approach raised a few hackles among people who were worried that men were being dangerously underrepresented on the big screen and convinced that the film was already the worst thing made in the history of Hollywood despite the fact that nary a frame had been shot at that point. I asked him what he made of all the hubbub and he seemed a bit bewildered by the controversy but confident over his plans for the film. I, of course, helpfully reminded him that he didn’t have to worry about outdoing the original film—all he had to do was make something that was better than the generally dire and largely unnecessary “Ghostbusters 2” and anything beyond that was gravy. It seems he clearly took my advice to heart because his “Ghostbusters” reboot is infinitely better than “Ghostbusters 2” and then some. In fact, all of the premature haters who have castigated the film sight unseen—not because of sexism as much as because of their concerns for ethics in remakes and, oh yeah, sexism—can pretty much suck it because it is actually a frequently hilarious take on the property that is one of the few of the big-ticket items of the season to actually live up to expectations (or, in this case, exceed them).

As the film opens, uptight physics professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is hoping to make tenure at Columbia University when she is horrified to discover that a book about the paranormal that she co-wrote with childhood friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has reappeared in a new printing that could scuttle her ambitions if her colleagues get wind of it. Erin goes of to confront her long-estranged friend to get her to remove it and discovers that Abby is still heavily into the study of paranormal activity, working alongside oddball nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to perfect a method of actually contacting and studying ghosts. When the three wind up going off to investigate a report of a ghost sighting at a historical mansion, they not only make contact with the specter but they—okay, Erin—gets horrendously slimed in the process. This is sort of great news—actual contact with an actual ghost—but when their activities wind up getting them fired from their respective jobs, they decide to go into business together in order to further pursue their studies.

In short order, they acquire a new work space (above a Chinese restaurant), a vehicle (a commandeered hearse), a receptionist in the spectacularly handsome but spectacularly dumb Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) and a sidekick in Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a transit worker with an encyclopedic knowledge of the infrastructure of New York City who decides to join up with the others after assisting them in pursuing another ghost in the subway. Before long, the four figure out that someone out there is deliberately unleashing ghosts upon the city and try to figure out who is doing it and why This leads to Rowan (Neil Casey), an eternally put-upon nerd who, like Erin and Abby, has had a lifetime fascination with the paranormal but who, unlike them, has chosen to use his knowledge to open a portal to the spirit world in the middle of the city that will inevitably unleash the apocalypse. While no cohabitation cats and dogs are seen, there is plenty of mass hysteria on hand (not to mention a few familiar faces, both human and ghostly) as the Ghostbusters, as they are eventually dubbed, attempt to save the day and the world.

On paper, the original “Ghostbusters” must have looked kind of ridiculous—essentially a riff on the largely forgotten Satanic apartment building epic “The Sentinel” reconciled as an Abbott & Costello vehicle—but it proved to be one of those films where all of its disparate elements wound up meshing together perfectly and even figured out how to properly integrate large-scale special effects, which require patience and precision to pull off, into the framework of a full-out comedy, a genre that requires looseness and spontaneity (or at least the illusion of it) to fully work. This is much trickier to pull off that some may realize—even the people who did it with “Ghostbusters” were unable to make it happen again when it came time to do the sequel—and the very good news about the new “Ghostbusters” is that it does it far more often than not. Instead of doing a straight remake of the original, Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold have written a screenplay that utilizes the same basic concept—discredited scientists go into business as ghostbusters and find an immediate need for their services—and then spin things off in new directions while throwing in the occasional homage to the original or brief cameos from virtually all of its stars (even the late Harold Ramis gets a couple of welcome shout-outs). There are a ton of jokes on display here—everything from silly slapstick and goofy dialogue to big effects-heavy set pieces and even a couple of direct shots at the cootie-fearing fanboy contingent that had been complaining about the film since its inception—and while not every one of them hits, enough of them do so that you hardly even register the duds. Even more impressively, unlike a lot of contemporary American comedy screenplays these days, Feig & Dippold have actually supplied a reasonably coherent storyline from which those jokes can emerge.

One of the keys to the success of the original film was how well the actors played off of each other—Bill Murray’s laconic cool worked perfectly against both the endearing, jargon-heavy nerdiness of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and the down-to-Earth everywoman qualities of Sigourney Weaver, who also sparked with the hilariously gauche and utterly besotted Rick Moranis—and that aspect also holds up this time around. I must admit that when I first heard the casting for the film, I was a tad apprehensive—not because the gender of those cast but because three of the central four have never particularly amused me before in the previous efforts—but they wind up clicking nicely as well. Instead of relying on their usual ticks as they have in the past, both Wiig and McCarthy both play actual characters with recognizable behaviors that they are able to develop and pay off amidst all the silliness. Although her character isn’t quite as fully formed as the others—why couldn’t she have played a scientist as well—Leslie Jones is very funny as well and manages to take one of the few glaring flaws of the original film—the token nature of the Ernie Hudson character—and turns it around into a new and appealing direction. That said, the film is completely stolen by Kate McKinnon’s hilariously eccentric turn as Holtzmann. No matter what she does here—and she does a lot—she scores a bulls-eye every time and even when she is just sitting in the background, the joy of her performance comes through so strongly that she practically levitates off the ground. Together, they form an ensemble that is so tight and zoned in to each others performance rhythms that you’ll want to see them team up together again and again. In what is pretty much the token male role (now there is a phrase one doesn’t get to dust off that often), Chris Hemsworth is surprisingly good as the earnestly dopey himbo—after largely crapping out as the hunky hero type, maybe he should look into doing the kind of goofball comedies that he evidently has a flair for after all.

In the end, “Ghostbusters” does not quite hit the heights of the original film for a number of reasons—the bad guy is kind of lame and forgettable and his revenge plot a bit tedious, the stuff involving the mayor (Andy Garcia) and his aide (Cecily Strong) trying to keep a lid on all the ghost sightings doest’t really work and some of the cameos and callbacks to the old film are a bit distracting (though the one stuck in the middle of the end credits is pretty great—but that could be said about the vast majority of comedies that have appeared since that one came out. It is, however, a smart and funny film that has a lot more charm and humor to it than one normally finds in a comedy these days. Adults will find it a successful contemporary comedy that also serves as a welcome reminder of one of the cultural touchstones of their collective youth. Young audiences (though younger ones should be warned that some of the apparitions on display may be a bit too scary for them) who have not yet been exposed to the original “Ghostbusters” (sad creatures) will find it a wildly entertaining film with a lot of good jokes, some nifty explosions and special effects and a cast of characters that girls and even boys will have no problem embracing and perhaps even emulating. Also slime. . .lots and lots of slime.

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