By Kevin Redding
What made the original 1984 “Ghostbusters” such a huge cultural phenomenon — captivating generations of proton pack-wearing kids and adults alike — was its truly unique and perfectly balanced blend of high-scale supernatural special effects and natural, irreverent comedy. Even with a great cast that included SNL alums Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd as two of four “schlubby,” everyman paranormal eliminators, nobody could’ve expected this odd anomaly to take the world by storm the way it did, shattering box office records, winning Oscars and striking a meaningful chord with pretty much anybody who would see it.
The movie was lightning-in-a-bottle, further proved five years later when the amusing but wholly underwhelming 1989 sequel failed to make an impact on its audience in the same way. It also had no pedestal to live up to when it first hit theaters.
Thirty-two years later, “Bridesmaids”/ “The Heat” “Spy” director Paul Feig’s all-female reboot has the misfortune of being held up against one of the most beloved movies of all time, a challenge even bigger than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
However, thanks to a stellar cast, namely the quartet of spectre hunters — SNL cast members Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and “Spy” star Melissa McCarthy — good-hearted camaraderie, a memorable batch of scary poltergeists in all shapes and sizes and a consistently funny energy throughout, this new version of “Ghostbusters” is a proton blast of summer fun, even with its flaws.
Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold have crafted something that will appease fans of the original — with plenty of nods and references, and cameos from most of the main cast, including a very touching tribute to the late Harold Ramis, to whom the movie is dedicated — while, most importantly, giving a whole new generation of kids their own heroes to look up to and dress up as. And these heroes are cool, science/tech savvy and laugh out loud funny.
Kristen Wiig — at her most endearingly awkward — is Dr. Erin Gilbert, a physicist on her way to secure tenure at Columbia University, whose paranormal-investigating past comes back to haunt her in the form of a newly republished book she co-wrote alongside her former best friend Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy). With her academic career threatened, Gilbert confronts Yates, who now works at a small technical college with the eccentric and scene-stealing Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon).
Yates and Holtzmann are all about seeking out the paranormal, but Gilbert wants nothing to do with that field of study anymore. The three wind up face-to-face with a free-floating apparition at a historic mansion, where Gilbert finds herself a believer once again after she’s showered with all the concrete evidence she needs: the spirit’s ectoplasmic slime.
Setting up shop above a Chinese restaurant, hiring a whole-other-level-of-stupid receptionist named Kevin, played by “Thor” himself Chris Hemsworth, and rounding out the team with an MTA worker named Patty Tolan (Jones) who knows New York City inside and out, the Ghostbusters are ready to equip a whole slew of ghost-trapping gadgets and find out why there’s been a sudden emergence of paranormal activity lately.
Feig and Dippold understand what people love most about the original — the characters — and run wild with that, taking the main basic concept of realistic people hunting ghosts in the Big Apple and doing their own thing with it. Some jokes fall flat — as is common in an improv-heavy ensemble — and the plot loses steam once it kicks into high gear, making for a second half that’s a bit bloated.
But overall, like in the original, it’s really fun hanging out with these characters and seeing them play off one another. The first half especially, when the group is forming and getting into the swing of their newfound business, is an absolute delight. Also, the ghosts on display here are all wonderfully designed, and the movie contains some legitimately creepy scenes. There’s plenty of room in the world for two different groups of Ghostbusters, and this one certainly holds their own. In fact, it’s when the movie hits the audience over the head with nostalgia and restricts itself from being its own “entity” altogether, by not putting complete trust in its four funny leads to make it work without help, that it suffers.