It’s impossible to separate Paul Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS from the 1984 original. It’s not just the name and iconography that connects it to Ivan Reitman’s supernatural comedy, but it’s a comparison that Feig invites by aping its structure and formula. Yet while it is difficult to wholly treat the 2016 paranormal investigators and eliminators as distinct entities, the strength of the cast is certainly is own flavour of Twinkie.
Mirroring the iconic New York Public Library haunting, Feig opens in a stately manor and a completely absurdist tone to the dialogue, instantly distinguishing it from the sardonic humour of Bill Murray and co. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) finds her tenure at Columbia University threatened when an old book she wrote with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) on the paranormal resurfaces. Erin’s confrontation of Abby, now working with experimental nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), coincides with the beginning of an invasion of ghosts in the city. Teaming up with subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), and their dippy receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the team must prove they are not frauds.
If the first Ghostbusters saw a group of SNL comedians defying expectations, then the GHOSTBUSTERS reboot is a cast at the top of their game laughing in the face of the same burden. Fully aware of its own cultural impact, Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation) work that into the script at every opportunity, commenting on message board snipes (“Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts”) that echo the visceral bile spewed by trolls at the very idea of this remake. It’s both a strength and an Achille’s heel for the film, hip enough to be conscious of its audience, but saddled with the need to address them repeatedly.
GHOSTBUSTERS plays to the strengths of its leads, carefully taking time to give each a backstory, rather that simply transplanting them into existing characters. Wiig and McCarthy share an easy on-screen presence, slipping effortlessly into a straight/funny dichotomy in several seemingly ad-libbed scenes. McKinnon’s comedy is a bit more erratic, and while it may try the patience of some, but her maniacal joy over her various tinker toys is as infectious as it is overwhelming. Hemsworth steals many of the scenes he’s in, a clueless antithesis to Annie Pott’s Janine Melnitz, but no less charming. Hemsworth shows his versatile range of physical comedy as well, proving there’s life beyond the spandex for him. Yet it’s Jones who gets some of the best lines as a counterpoint to the nerdish scientists, and unlike Ernie Hudson’s everyman approach, she adds literal street smarts as a vital part of the team.
At the same time, the script lacks a strong through-line, absent of the rich mythology than Dan Aykroyd painstakingly wove between the one-liners and marshmallow men. Neil Casey’s Rowan is a weak default villain, never achieveing the same pervading threat of Gozer or a Carpathian’s river of slime. Andy García as the Mayor of New York City, with an assistant in the always terrific Cecily Strong, is mostly perfunctory as the bureaucratic roadblock. Instead, the film follows the modern conventions of origin stories, perhaps giving a little too much breathing room to an often freewheeling plot filled with cameos from all the surviving original cast members.
GHOSTBUSTERS works best when it is a straight-up joyous 21st celebration of its own legacy, complete with slime baths, proton blasts, and giant creatures stomping through New York. In the familiar finale, McKinnon’s Holtzmann chaotically rips through a horde of oncoming spectres, gleefully mowing them down with her inventions. It’s the kid let loose in candy store, which is exactly what Feig gets to do with this outing, one that achieves its aim for the most part. If the hints at the end of the credits are any indication, we’re in for more nods to that canon in the near future, and this can only be a good thing.
2016 | US | DIR: Paul Feig | WRITERS: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig | CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams | DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures | RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes | RATING: ★★★½