Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Review: 'Ghostbusters' is back and it's not bad — get used to it (w/video)

Relax, trolls. Your precious Ghostbusters are in good hands. Not great mitts like Bill Murray's but good enough to silence the online rabble, a backward, sexist bunch.

We should now hold the truth as self-evident, that all Ghostbusters are created equal, even women, especially those as comically gifted as those in Paul Feig's reboot. Sure, Melissa McCarthy has ripped into funnier material, Kristen Wiig shouldn't get stuck playing straight woman, and Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are rough diamonds.

But if Ghostbusters now becomes the franchise that the original couldn't establish, thank those women — plus Chris Hemsworth, a token male in a blockbuster, for a change.

Feig's take on Ghostbusters hews closely to the 1984 original, a bit pushier about referencing the original than necessary. This is chiefly done situationally, like the prologue haunting and climactic urban battle against a gigantic logo, and verbally, with snippets of cribbed dialogue. Nods of recognition, more than peals of laughter.

What Fieg and Katie Dippold's screenplay doesn't conjure is anyone outside the Ghostbusters to propel the narrative. There isn't a richly romantic/occult character like Sigourney Weaver's or a supernatural goof equaling Rick Moranis for any Ghostbuster to play off. The reboot lacks such comedy conduits, leaving the girls and their hunk-lunk to carry the laugh load.

Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a Columbia professor whose tenure is threatened by a video and book making her appear like a crackpot, insisting ghosts are real. The material was posted by Erin's colleague Abby Yates (McCarthy), whom she abandoned mid research. Abby now collaborates with Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), a wild-eyed techie so consumed with science that she looks at a Pringle and sees a parabola.

They're eventually joined by Patty Tolan (Jones), a subway cashier and witness to another supernatural occurrence, who wants to kick ghost butt. Needing office help, the team hires Kevin (Hemsworth), dim as he is handsome. The cast's SNL bloodline — two current stars, one former, two popular hosts — is evident, a collabo spirit born of shared creative experience.

The material they're dealt, however, isn't always up to their talent. Ghostbusters desperately needs more at stake, with an outsized villain matching the improved CGI apparitions. All we get is a corrupt mayor (Andy Garcia) and his aide (Cecily Strong) trying to discredit the Ghostbusters and Rowan North (Neil Casey) trying to unleash all of New York's dead souls.

Rowan isn't as imposing as his scheme, lesser in appearance and impact than Peter MacNicol's nerd in Ghostbusters II or any original threat. He is neither scary nor funny, which is the point of horror-comedy. As long as Feig is empowering women, why not have them vanquish a more sinister male figure? Aiming proton beams at toothy swirls of blue smoke takes a movie only so far.

McCarthy tamps down her brash persona, amid the team dynamic and big special effects. Wiig's is a curious character, short on punchlines but smartest of the group, yet melting like a school girl whenever Kevin walks by. Again, Feig and Dippold's screenplay is a step or two away from any feminist edge.

Jones is a volcanic comedian, pinned with a genially stereotypical role. The movie's breakout is McKinnon, although after this unhinged turn there's no telling which way she'll head. Much of her performance is just busy stuff, gestures, flinches and tics or eyes appearing even crazier when she pulls off her goggles. But nobody here adds more to a movie needing it.

By now, it's known that each of the original Ghostbusters and Weaver appear in the reboot (except the late Harold Ramis, who gets a sweet nod). How they are presented in the film begs the question of how fans really want them presented.

Would we prefer Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson as ghostbusting mentors or late saviors, perhaps? Weaver repossessed by Zuul? Or entirely new characters separate from the (proton) pack? What Feig does works. But could it work better? Discuss among yourselves.

That conversation will add more to the Ghostbusters legacy than online carping from unyielding nostalgists, male chauvinists or trolls posing as either for kicks.

Ghostbusters is back. It's not bad. Get used to it.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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