Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: "Ghostbusters"


I wish I could say better about “Ghostbusters,” the highly anticipated -- and, among a small but vocal slice of misogynistic Internet trolls, much reviled -- reboot of the 1984 comedy classic. People are mostly talking about the fact this version features four female Ghostbusters.

But what they should be talking about is why the movie is so funny and distinctive in the first half, and then spends the last hour trying woefully to mimic the old film -- right down to cameos of nearly all the original cast members that mostly serve to remind us the new version doesn’t measure up.

It’s not the abundance of X chromosomes that diminishes this “Ghostbusters.” It’s that it tries too hard to be a carbon copy instead of a wholly fresh take.

Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig play Abby and Erin, two paranormal physicists who parted ways years earlier after writing a book about ghosts. Now Erin is worried it will ruin her chances for tenure at Columbia University, while Abby slaves away at a fly-by-night science institute with a younger colleague, Holtzmann, who’s half-crazy and hammers together all sorts of experimental tech to blast and capture ghosts.

Played by Kate McKinnon, Holtzmann is the best thing about the movie. With her runaway hair, dumpster-diver-meets-1980s-John Cusack-wardrobe, yellow goggles and uncomfortable manner, McKinnon has a way of barking out her dialogue in oddly endearing ways. She’s like a stray puppy you know will chew up all your shoes, but you’re eager to bring her home anyway.

Leslie Jones plays Patty in something of a retread of the Ernie Hudson role, the sassy and street-smart black add-on, though she’s a little more proactive. She’s an MTA booth dweller who seeks out the Ghostbusters after encountering an especially loathsome apparition in the subway tunnel.

A note on the ghosts: they’re great-looking, with 30+ years of special effects advancement giving them all sorts of details and depth; I like how the bones show through their translucent clothes and epidermis. Curiously, as in the old movie the spirits never actually kill anyone directly, though one guy falls out a window after being scared to his (presumed) death.

Last time around the villain was a conniving bureaucrat indifferent to the ghostly danger, but here it’s a creepy nerd named Rowan (Neil Casey), a spit-upon hotel janitor who’s actively giving the paranormal escapees a nudge or three. The guy is supposed to be resentful about always being overlooked, but after spending some time with the charmless fellow we empathize with the overlookers.

Chris Hemsworth has a fun turn as Kevin, a dimwitted blond who becomes their receptionist, mostly by enchanting Erin (or at least her hormones). He’s so stupid his eyeglass frames are empty -- “They kept getting dirty,” he justifies -- and he covers his eyes when told not to listen. Although at some point I got the sense Kevin is just pulling a ruse to get out of not doing any work.

It’s all good stuff, right up to the time they make their first big public takedown of ghosts in front of a hall full of rock concert fans, when “Ghostbusters” runs off the rails.

Director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”), who co-wrote the script with Katie Dippold, turns the latter hour of the movie into a greatest hits show, as we trot out the old actors and even the hot dog-eating Slimer ghost. There’s a new Ghostmobile, another Cadillac hearse (borrowed from Patty’s uncle), a showdown with a giant puffy ghost who goes around crushing buildings, and so on.

It’s like all the energy they built up in the first half got plugged into the wrong, outdated gizmo.

The women of “Ghostbusters” are great. The foursome have real chemistry together, and I would love to see them go on to other adventures -- ones in which there’s no expectation or reason to crib from a classic.

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