Stars: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Zach Woods, Ed Begley Jr., Karan Soni, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong and Charles Dance.
Writers: Paul Feig and Katie Dippold.
Director: Paul Feig
The army of haters (nostalgists? misogynists? the undead?) that shrieked like banshees prior to seeing Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters will be haunted by the spectre of the director’s goofy, funny reboot. While it falls short of nailing the anarchic spirit and character chemistry of Ivan Reitman’s beloved 1984 blockbuster, Feig and his cast of game comediennes deliver enough thrills and giggles to both justify the long-in-development franchise-starter and smother the internet’s white noise of negativity.
Built upon a framework that will feel familiar to the legion of fans, the script by Feig and collaborator Kate Dippold (The Heat, 2013) reworks the famous ‘haunted library’ opening before honing in on fidgety academic Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig). Just as a career goal looms, her ex-BFF Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) derails Erin’s life plans and throwing the pair back together, reigniting their passion for the study of the paranormal. Fortuitously, New York City is about to experience an apocalyptic upsurge in supernatural activity, thanks to the evildoings of whiny ginger Rowan North (Neil Casey).
Poised to make it big as The Big Apple’s leading paranormal extermination and elimination team, the reunited gal pals team with Abby’s unshakeably cool lab partner Jillian (Kate McKinnon) and street smart NYC girl Patty (Leslie Jones) to face off against the ghouls of centuries past, who are conjuring to life at will and running rampant in downtown Manhattan. Also working against the Ghostbusters are a disbelieving mayoral office (Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong) and some ineffectual feds (Matt Walsh, Michael Kenneth Williams).
As expected, the big laughs fall to Wiig and McCarthy, a key point of difference between the reboot and the original. Reitman’s expertly managed ensemble of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis were vividly larger-than-life characters with strong comedic perspectives; it was a pure delight just to be hanging out with them. But very few actual ‘gags’ fell to the trio, and those that did grew organically from their personalities and the nimble plotting.
Feig is a master of onscreen ‘fem-istry’, but his Ghostbusters leads are not as finely etched as the ensemble in his biggest hit Bridesmaids, nor are they as deliriously funny as the key characters in his best film, Spy. Kristen Wiig is corseted as the tightly-wound Erin, the few moments when her trademark ‘zany’ peeks out proving hilariously memorable; McCarthy’s physical comedy shtick and motor mouth skill is well utilised, but a bit familiar; McKinnon is not the breakout star of the film, as was clearly intended, though she gets some big laughs.
Notably lacking in Feig’s reboot is a centralised romance similar to that between Murray’s Peter Venkman and Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett, which served to provide both a human warmth and personal stake. Instead, we have a glimmer of unrequited attraction between Erin and Chris Hemsworth’s dim-witted beau-hunk, Kevin, the ‘Ghostbusters’ receptionist, in an overplayed subplot that only amounts to minor giggles. A lot falls on the Australian actor’s broad shoulders, perhaps more than was wise in a cast of top-tier comedic talents, but he handles the part with…enthusiasm.
It is unclear if Hemsworth’s role was meant to fill the shoes of Annie Potts’ front-office firebrand Janine or Rick Moranis’ classic nerd Lewis, whose presence played such a crucial role in the original’s dynamic; it does neither. Also leaving a void is the conflict that was provided by William Atherton’s slimy EPA agent Walter Peck, aka ‘Dickless’; Feig’s film suffers in much the same way that the ill-conceived Ghostbusters 2 did, with no convincing villain to provide character tension and dramatic momentum. Technology denies the production the rich, evocative shadows and ‘real New York’ ambience captured by Reitman’s legendary DOP Laszlo Kovacs; instead, Robert Yeoman serviceably supplies the flavourless digital sheen of the modern film palette.
The ace in Feig’s deck is his obvious fondness for the property’s mythology and affinity with the fan base. The director skilfully mimics visual and audio cues that will (did) bring knowing nods and broad smiles from an audience that holds the original in warm regard. If the reimagining never establishes its own defining personality, it is only because it adheres so affectionately and respectfully to the legacy of its source material.
The ties that bind do not always serve the film well; shoehorned cameos are tonally disruptive and not worthy (one key reappearance reduced to a end-credit outtake slot). Nevertheless, as the latest brand to hop aboard Hollywood’s reboot train, Ghostbusters is better than most repackaged 80s nostalgia and provide no ammunition for those that were priming their keyboards for a misfire of biblical proportions.