THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Like Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Paul Feig's Ghostbusters (whose onscreen subtitle is Answer the Call) understands that the most effective way to reboot or continue a franchise is to essentially remake the original, changing only the characters and a few basic details. If we've learned anything over the years, it's that veering too far away from what people initially liked about a mega-popular blockbuster can lead to extreme dissatisfaction. Filmmakers have to walk a fine line, making sure to capture the exact same feel, without completely surrendering originality. Ghostbusters pulls off this difficult task. It has a vibe that's very similar to Ivan Reitman's 1984 original, but includes the inspired twist of making the heroes female.
Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a one-time enthusiast of the paranormal who gave up her interest in order to advance in the world of academia. She's reunited with old pal Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who runs a paranormal studies program at a low-rent community college with her assistant, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When the three uncover hardcore evidence of the existence of ghosts, they form a unit dedicated to capturing them. Subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) joins the team after being harassed by an apparition in a tunnel; she also provides them with their official vehicle, the Ecto-1. Chris Hemsworth plays Kevin, the dim-witted receptionist hired to run the office. The newly-formed Ghostbusters have their work cut out for them after discovering that a deranged man named Rowan North (Neil Casey) has invented a device to increase paranormal activity in NYC and possibly even open a portal that will bring about the city's destruction at the hands of otherworldly beings.
Having an all-female cast puts a fresh spin on the material, but let's leave gender aside for a moment. The movie's real strength is that it brings together four of the funniest people (male or female) on the planet to be the new Ghostbusters. It's probably no coincidence that the leads all have experience on Saturday Night Live. Jones and McKinnon are current cast members, Wiig is an alumnus, and McCarthy has hosted multiple times. This means that they all understand the value of teamwork in creating comedy. The way the actresses build chemistry together, play off each other's choices, and set one another up for jokes helps the movie to generate consistent laughter.
All four of them are great (as is Hemsworth), but the standout is Kate McKinnon, who brings a delighfully kooky energy to her character. With her strange wardrobe choices, mischievous facial expressions, and perpetually unfazed attitude, Holtzmann becomes the Ghostbuster you can't look away from when she's onscreen. In one of the movie's best touches, it's obvious that she's gay and majorly crushing on Erin. That's never expressly stated, but McKinnon makes it clear in a hysterical – and sweet – manner. Saying that she deserves consideration for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination is not hyperbole.
Of course, a Ghostbusters movie isn't a Ghostbusters movie unless there's a lot of busting ghosts, and the film succeeds here, too. It follows a story arc very similar to the original's. Outsiders assemble, make some progress, are railroaded by the city's mayor (played by Andy Garcia in this case), and make good by saving everyone from a massive threat. That plot wasn't broken, so the film wisely chooses not to try fixing it.
As before, the ghosts straddle a nice line between being creepy and funny. A fearsome dragon-like apparition, for example, naturally gravitates to a heavy metal concert, where the attendees greet it with head-banging enthusiasm. Later, they take the form of massive Thanksgiving parade balloons. The creatively-conceived spirits are a kick to watch. Outstanding use of 3D adds to the effect. Ghosts fly off the screen right into your face. The streams from the Ghostbusters' proton packs appear to be zapping next to your head. The size and scope of the apparitions is emphasized by the effect. This is a case where 3D really is the preferred format in which to see the movie.
Much has been made of the fact that most of the actors from the original Ghostbusters provide cameos. While seeing them pop up undoubtedly elicits a smile, the truth is that these cameos aren't especially funny and, in all honesty, distract from the story a little bit. (It's painfully obvious that Bill Murray filmed his shots apart from the lead actresses, so some essential comic energy is lost.) The other significant flaw in the movie is the villain. Rowan isn't developed particularly well. We're never entirely sure who he is or why he's so hell-bent on unleashing a torrent of ghosts upon the world. Bringing some more dimension to him would have heightened the threat he poses.
Those are not inconsiderable drawbacks, but they don't do much damage. Ghostbusters has more than enough working in its favor: hilarious performances, superb effects, a killer soundtrack, phenomenal 3D, and sharp jokes/situations, courtesy of Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold (The Heat). Put all those things together and they add up to 116 minutes of great ghostbusting fun. This movie is a blast.
( 1/2 out of four)
Ghostbusters is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.
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