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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Ghostbusters  (2016)
3 Stars
Directed by Paul Feig.
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Zach Woods, Ed Begley Jr., Charles Dance, Karan Soni, Steve Higgins, Michael Kenneth Williams, Toby Huss, Matt Walsh, Nate Corddry, Michael McDonald, John Milhiser, Ben Harris, Jessica Chaffin, Jamie Denbo, Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver.
2016 – 116 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for some crude humor).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, July 14, 2016.
The love writer-director Paul Feig (2015's "Spy") and co-scribe Kate Dippold (2013's "The Heat") have for the "Ghostbusters" brand—and, especially, the pop-cultural phenomenon that was 1984's runaway-hit original film—is splashed gloriously across every inch of their 2016 reboot. This new "Ghostbusters" neither replaces nor tarnishes anything that has come before (and even if it did, it wouldn't change a frame of the previous entries). Instead, it celebrates the franchise in the best way possible: by being a damn good movie in its own right, easily as jubilant and all-around fun as the revered—but let's be serious, imperfect—one that started it all.

A Columbia University physics professor hoping to receive tenure, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) has long attempted to distance herself from her past life as a paranormal researcher. When her former partner and estranged best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) lists on Amazon the book they once co-authored together, "Ghosts from Our Past: Both Figuratively and Literally," it is the first of two catalysts which reunite them. The other one, as it happens, is a strange encounter between a terrified Aldridge Mansion tour guide (Zach Wood) and the purported ghost of a murderous inhabitant from the 1800s. When Erin and Abby are sought out to investigate the mansion, their sighting of this apparition once and for all confirms their belief in, and years of work focused on, the supernatural.

After both ladies find themselves out of jobs, they take it as a sign to finally fulfill their dream of creating their own ghost-hunting business. Joining forces with Abby's loyal assistant Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and an MTA employee, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who has just had her own otherworldly encounter in a subway tunnel, the foursome are quickly branded phonies in the media and on social media ("Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts," one comment reads). Looking to prove their naysayers wrong by trapping a paranormal entity for the first time, they soon run afoul of a vengeful hotel janitor, Rowan North (Neil Casey), with plans to open a cataclysmic vortex between our world and the next.

"Ghostbusters" is a tonally confident gas—irreverent without becoming a farcical spoof, pleasingly spooky on occasion while never losing its encompassing sense of merriment. Director Paul Feig knows his way around laugh-out-loud comedies with a heartfelt undercurrent (2011's "Bridesmaids" remains one of the very best of its genre this decade), and this sensibility serves him well for this latest project. In mounting a fresh "Ghostbusters" upstart for a new generation, he acknowledges the legacy left behind while judiciously sprinkling references overt and sly throughout. Above all, he does not belabor these connections; save, perhaps, for a few welcome cameos that nonetheless occasionally feel forced, Feig has his own unique way of telling a similar, but far from identical, story. The film stands wholly on its own.

Perhaps the savviest creative decision made is the one which proved the most ridiculously controversial when it was announced. The central cast, without fail, is a joy to watch onscreen, its four leading actors some of the most naturally funny and likable working today. That they are female is irrelevant; it is positively stomach-churning to think the gender of the protagonists in "Ghostbusters" is a debatable issue in the twenty-first century. Kristen Wiig (2015's "Welcome to Me") and Melissa McCarthy (2016's "The Boss") are the irresistible anchors as long-time pals and scientiests Erin and Abby, grounding the fantastical premise with a convincing onscreen reality. These aren't over-the-top characters and shouldn't be—they are intelligent professionals, after all—but this doesn't mean they aren't comically inspired throughout. Wiig and McCarthy sell every moment, punching up their lines with effortless timing and zingy deliveries.

Kate McKinnon (2015's "Sisters") throws herself, full body and soul, into her role as loopy engineer Jillian, a smooth operator if only in her own mind. It is difficult to steal scenes when everyone in front of the camera is so fantastic, but McKinnon comes close on a number of occasions. As Patty, Leslie Jones (2015's "Trainwreck") is infectious in her sunny charisma. Her excitement over receiving her first big-screen lead is written across her face but kept in check as she endearingly essays a blue-collar history buff whose touch with the unknown both frightens and thrills her. Together, these four performers share such a sparkling chemistry one almost wishes for a non-supernatural spin-off where Feig focuses on exploring their characters' personal lives. Of special note, Chris Hemsworth (2015's "In the Heart of the Sea") is a delight as the Ghostbusters' affable yet inept assistant Kevin, a bewilderingly cerebral graphic designer who is blissfully unaware he has been hired for his beefcake looks—or even that he has beefcake looks. As he did in 2015's sorely underrated "Vacation," Hemsworth displays an innate knack for comedy that becomes less surprising each time he knocks these roles out of the park.

Juggling humor with big special effects and safe scares—the kind suitable for viewers across most ages—is an equation that can easily strike as overblown if not handled just right. From the opening scene set after hours at the Aldridge Mansion Museum to the third-act action extravaganza where Erin, Abby, Jillian and Patty put their proton packs to ample use across New York City, this one hooks itself into the proper groove. Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman (2015's "Love & Mercy") has lensed a colorfully slick, effectively moody production; set-pieces involving a malevolent ghost pilgrim and demonic Macy's parade balloons—one which fans of the series will readily recognize—provide darkly delicious imagery. Visual effects are mostly of the computer-generated variety, but they are used exceptionally well, avoiding garishness and appropriately filling out the movie's landscape.

"Ghostbusters" exhibits a cornball sweetness that works the vast majority of the time, but not consistently. Just as the original picture is fallible to criticisms, so, too, is this one. A few one-liners fall flat, a walk-on from Ozzy Osbourne belongs back in 2002, and human villain Rowan North is undernourished by an otherwise focused screenplay that fails to tap into his potential. When all else is so very entertaining, however, such nitpicks hardly make a dent. There is an empowering, timely quality to this "Ghostbusters," one that bridges the past with the contemporary. Unexpectedly clever nods to 1939's "The Wizard of Oz," 1975's "Jaws," and, unlikely as it may seem, 1986's "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" demonstrate a fondness for cinema history, while gags pertaining to Internet trolls and the "If you see something, say something" anti-terrorism slogan root the setting in the undeniable here and now. Front and center are a quartet of smart, resourceful, funny, interesting individuals about whom $160-million studio blockbusters rarely get made. That, in and of itself, is worth celebrating, but it would mean little if the film wasn't very good. This one thrives. When Patty exclaims near the end, "I'm a ghostbuster!" while zapping some nasty spirit's butt, it is near-impossible not to get lost in the exuberance of the world Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and the late, great Harold Ramis created, and the one Paul Feig and Kate Dippold have warmly carried on.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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