Phantasmic four

 Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig  and Kate McKinnon in the new  Ghostbusters

Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon in the new Ghostbusters

As a Baby Boomer, I can’t truthfully say that the original Ghostbusters movie was a precious icon of my coming-of-age (though my ex-husband did get stuck in a traffic jam on Central Park West on account of an intersection being covered with fake marshmallow fluff for filming the climactic scene). I enjoyed the movie, certainly, and was aware of it becoming a bit of a pop-culture phenomenon. But being over 30 already in 1984, I guess I was just too old to take it personally that a director who isn’t Ivan Reitman and a cast who aren’t the original paranormal elimination squad would eventually have the temerity to do a remake. Lucky me: I thoroughly enjoyed Paul Feig’s reboot, and frankly don’t see by what stretch of the imagination it “ruins” the original, as had been widely predicted by an outraged faction of Gen X Internet troglodytes.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Ghostbusters 2016 is in some ways an improvement on the original – and I don’t mean merely that the CGI specter spectacles are more technologically sophisticated. Whereas the original version, though written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, was more of a star vehicle for Bill Murray than an ensemble piece, the new one is far more democratic in terms of what it gives its four principals to do. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to determine which one is the “star.” And that’s all to the good, since the onscreen chemistry among Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones is unstintingly terrific.


The narrative starts – admittedly a bit slowly – from the point of view of Wiig’s character, Dr. Erin Gilbert, a physicist and notably nerdy dresser who’s up for tenure at Columbia University. But her intimidating boss (Charles Dance) gives her the boot when a book on the paranormal that she once wrote as a lark with a childhood friend, now Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy), suddenly resurfaces on Amazon. She goes to read Abby the riot act (in her own nerdy way) and finds her old pal actively working on paranormal research with a half-demented, jargon-spewing engineer named Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Abby cuts a deal with Erin, offering to take the offending book back off the market if she will help the team investigate a reported haunting of a historic mansion.

Thus begins the movie’s first big supernatural set piece, which looks rather glorious and ends with the nascent ghostbusting team exulting that “Ghosts are real!” But it’s too late to save Erin’s job, so the trio sets up business upstairs from a Chinese restaurant (because they can’t afford the exorbitant rent on the original Ghostbusters’ firehouse). The mayor (Andy Garcia) and his staff miss no opportunity to discredit their efforts, and a bit of onscreen meta-fun is had at the expense of those vociferous online critics of the announcement of the remake and its underwhelming trailer.

Business picks up nonetheless as the level of paranormal activity in New York City begins to spike, due to the conniving of Rowan North (Neil Casey), a sociopath whose life’s ambition is to break down the veil between normal reality and the ghosts’ plane of existence. Before long the three ghost-hunters need to hire a receptionist; enter Kevin Beckman, who is hunky enough to make repressed Erin weak-kneed but absolutely as dumb as a box of rocks. Who knew that Chris Hemsworth could be this funny?

These three women bond in adversity and soon acquire a fourth volunteer team member: Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a transit worker who’s fed up with ghosts in the subway tunnels and is prepared to contribute an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the City’s buildings, including who died where under what dicey circumstances, along with the use of her undertaker uncle’s hearse. They all bicker and puzzle one another, but together they’re unstoppable – and funny as heck, tossing off one-liners and taking pratfalls on ectoplasmic slime-covered surfaces with aplomb and determination that are more than worthy of the original cast.

Predictably, the action builds up to a gigantic CGI-heavy battle that is somewhat less fun than watching these four talented comediennes just riff off one another, though some of the special effects are pretty impressive. A looming line of haunted parade balloons is particularly spooky-looking, and presents the opportunity for the giant Marshmallow Man of the original flick to put in a brief appearance. Original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts also get cameos as well, but they’re basically fan service and don’t do much to advance the tale.

Ghostbusters 2016’s chaotic plot and overreliance on CGI are amply counterbalanced by great production values and an absolutely superb core cast who seem like they’re really jazzed by working together. If I had to single one out as a true find, it’s McKinnon, who’s not very well-known outside the Saturday Night Live audience. She infuses her inventor character with manic glee that just lights up the screen. But really, these four Ghostbusters belong together, and I’m already eager for a sequel.

Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that this rebooted franchise is not likely to ruin any fanboy’s fondest childhood memories. It might even…erm…raise your spirits.

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