Director: Paul Feig
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig
3 (out of 5) Globes
Relax, Men’s Rights Activists: The funniest part of the all-female “Ghostbusters” is a dude. As our heroes’ super-dolt himbo of a secretary, Chris Hemsworth deadpans up a storm, coolly rattling off absurdities, smiling stupidly, eating sandwiches mid-battle and gamely sending up his status as a throwback macho god we sometimes confuse with his very boring brother, what’s-his-name. Hemsworth doesn’t walk away with the movie. If anything it’s a photo finish with Kate McKinnon, as the most unhinged of the main quartet. But it’s really a comedy where everyone’s funny, not the least the four women helping to re-work and re-gender a beloved franchise that previously had a fifty percent batting average.
That Paul Feig’s new “Ghostbusters” is good and fun and funny is, of course, a huge relief. After all the hoopla over the un-loved trailer and cries of childhood memories left poop-stained, it would have been crushing had it been bad or, perhaps worse, painfully mediocre. If we had to see it out of obligation — as a political act, to counter a culture that still asks if women are funny, when women have been funny since at least the Lascaux cave days — it would have been yet another reminder that 2016 is the worst.
Yet it does something else of note. Mainstream film is currently stuck in a reboot stutter, like a scratched record that keeps playing the same two seconds. We can have “Star Wars” again, but only if it’s basically the first one all over again. “Ghostbusters” regurgitates some of the original’s story beats: A motley crew of disgraced nerds (plus one plebe) creates a makeshift business, has a big public success, falls on hard times then beats back a New York apocalypse. (It even fits in with today’s blockbusters, which regularly like to watch cities partially or entirely destroyed by otherworldly beasties.)
But Feig and company do it their way. Their “Ghostbusters” is its own thing, has its own voice, and is only mildly slavish to an old commodity. Broken down it’s 30 percent a new “Ghostbusters” movie, 70 percent a new Paul Feig movie. It’s not even set in the same Cinematic Universe, meaning the appearances from the old actors are mere jokey, nudge-nudging cameos. (These cameos might be annoyances but, given the rocky pre-release nonsense, they also play like ripe eff-yous to haters. They’re each like the Marshall McLuhan scene in “Annie Hall”: “Well, I happen to have Bill Murray right here!” And one of the swing-bys is so dark it will enrage humorless fanboys, which can only be a good thing.)
Being mostly a Paul Feig movie means it combines unusually inspired ad-libbing with creatively silly plotting. Getting the team together involves a set-up nearly as fun as the one-liner-filled scenes. Melissa McCarthy’s Abby and Kristen Wiig’s Erin used to be a dynamic duo of paranormal investigators until Erin realized she was almost certainly wrong about ghosts and mercilessly tried to erase her history to become a stern Columbia physicist. When the two unhappily reconnect, the wind up stumbling upon an actual (goo-vomiting) spirit. They try to show their video evidence to the public, only to be mocked by YouTube commenters who, in 2016, no longer trust images enough to catch when something’s real.
Even the big world-destroying plot has an edge to it. The villain isn’t just some mischievous rando; he’s a whiny, entitled manboy (played by Neil Casey), not unlike the whiny, entitled manboys who’ve besieged the film since its inception. Feig and company are so aware of what’s happening in the world (or the Internet, anyway) that they were able to turn their haters into the bad guy. Casey’s Rowan wants to drown New York in angry ghosts, and our team — whose ranks are quickly swollen by McKinnon’s gadget nut Jillian and Leslie Jones’ no-nonsense MTA employee Patty — get to stopping him, while the filmmakers do their own brand of what the first film did: melding comedy with big screen thrills.
That’s where Feig’s limitations come in. He’s no stranger to toying with genres without simply lampooning them. But “The Heat” and “Spy” were at their worst when trying to play straight. Feig usually knows that the real fireworks are supplied by his actors. The same goes here. He knows to drown his film in jokes no matter what’s happening. Even during the wishy-washy climax, which threatens to down in f/x, our four ladies are trying to slip in quips, trying to make sure they’re the real draw. More often than not this “Ghostbusters” knows the real spectacle is not a giant marauding Uncle Sam or yet more buildings being destroyed. Instead it’s Kate McKinnon, eyes ablaze, giving a big, tonguey lick to a laser gun before she takes out some expensive special effects a million times less interesting than she is.