Movie Review: “Ghostbusters”

Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey
Paul Feig

Want a surefire way to piss someone off? Tell them that Hollywood is remaking their favorite film. That seemed to do the trick for the millions of “Ghostbusters” fans when it was announced that Sony was not only rebooting Ivan Reitman’s 1984 comedy classic but that director Paul Feig would be gender swapping all the roles. Though the news had the unfortunate effect of spawning a small but vocal group of misogynistic internet trolls, even the most level-headed moviegoers had reason to be concerned due to the uninspired cast and disappointing early trailers. Thankfully, the 2016 reboot isn’t as bad as many predicted, but it’s not very good either. The film is merely okay, and while that may be enough to silence its detractors, for a franchise with as much potential as “Ghostbusters,” it should have been better.

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) used to be a firm believer in the paranormal, even writing a book on the subject with childhood friend/fellow scientist Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) before leaving it all behind to focus on a legitimate career teaching at Columbia University. But when Erin and Abby experience an actual paranormal sighting after a chance encounter reunites them, they team up with oddball nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and street-smart MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to capture a ghost as proof that they exist. Meanwhile, a bullied hotel janitor named Rowan (Neil Casey) has begun planting devices around the city that attract and amplify paranormal activity with the intention of opening a portal to a ghostly dimension and wreaking havoc on the world as payback. The only ones capable of stopping Rowan and his army of undead are the newly formed Ghostbusters, but first, they need to convince people that it isn’t a hoax.

One of the main reasons that the original “Ghostbusters” was such a huge success (and its inferior sequel wasn’t a total disaster) was the camaraderie among its four leads. Though the new-look Ghostbusters have their individual moments to shine, the team chemistry isn’t as strong. Wiig and McCarthy resort to doing their usual shtick (although the latter is more reserved and better for it), while Jones is stuck playing the same one-note character that has defined her career. She’s loud and feisty and borderline annoying. Fortunately, Feig has an ace up his sleeve in the form of “Saturday Night Live” star McKinnon, whose mad-scientist inventor feels like the only fully developed character of the quartet. Chris Hemsworth is also funny as a male twist on the stereotypical dumb blonde secretary, but it’s a recurring gag that quickly wears thin.

A movie like “Ghostbusters” is only as good as its lead villain, however, and Rowan is about as disappointing as they come. He’s basically a lamer version of Peter MacNicol’s demented museum curator from “Ghostbusters II,” except with a more contrived motive and marred by a terrible, amateurish performance from Casey. But the lack of a menacing villain is just part of a bigger issue within Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold’s lazy script, which features some fun set pieces but never really adds up to an engaging or coherent story. It feels very loose and thrown together, with many of the jokes either falling flat or failing to elicit more than a chuckle.

The film isn’t without its charms. The action sequences deliver the thrills that you’d expect from a modern “Ghostbusters” movie, particularly the final showdown in Times Square, and Feig does a solid job of weaving horror and sci-fi elements throughout, but it’s never allowed to completely be its own thing. Any time the film tries to pay homage to the 1984 version (including some pointless cameos from the original cast), it loses whatever momentum it’s built up. That ultimately proves to be the movie’s undoing, because while “Ghostbusters” is an occasionally entertaining and mostly harmless reboot, it lacks the nuance and comic energy that made its predecessor an instant classic.