There are many, many things to love about the GHOSTBUSTERS reboot, and one of them is that it is equally good whether you are a fan of the 1984 version, or if you’ve never heard of it. Director and co-writer (with Katie Dippold) Paul Feig, the man who brought us THE HEAT (co-written with him by Dippold) and BRIDESMAIDS (co-written by GHOSTBUSTERS co-star Kristen Wiig) has taken up the challenge of equaling the original and, betcha by golly wow, he’s pulled it off. He’s even equaled the Stay-Puft marshmallow man moment, and not just by making it bigger and splashier.
The new team is Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, and when our films begins, they two of them haven’t spoken in a decade, and one is bringing a ray of sunshine to the crazies and the indifferent in New York City’s subways. Wiig is Erin Gilbert, a barley contained bundle of nervous energy and mystifying fashion choices about to gain tenure at Columbia University as a physics professor. Alas, a metaphorical ghost from her past surfaces when one of the city’s landmarks becomes haunted, and the curator (Ed Begley, Jr.) seeks her out on the strength of a book about the paranormal that she had co-written years before with Abby Yates (McCarthy). With her tenure in jeopardy over her questionable views, she confronts Abby about bringing the book back into print (and e-book). Abby, on the other hand, has never given up the dream of proving that ghosts exist, running her investigations out of a kludgy lab in a borderline institute of higher learning. One thing leads to another, actually they lead to a confrontation with an all-too real ghost, and to Erin teaming up with Abby, Abby’s cockatoo-coiffed nuclear engineer, Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), and, after a ghost-sighting in the subway, Patty Tolan (Jones), who may not be a scientist, but she has a car, a tour-guide’s knowledge of NYC history, and an attitude that doesn’t distinguish between the living and the dead when either gets out of line. And just in time. Manhattan is under attack by a pasty-faced janitor with a dream of opening a vortex that will flood the island with ghosts, and wipe out the humans that have rejected him so callously.
There is a wry sort of bonkers at work here that pays tribute to the original (wicked cameos and shout-outs abound),but doesn’t copy it. Let me remove the suspense, no one says that they got slimed, yet slime there is, and it may even have it in for one of the ladies. Most noteworthy is McCarthy, who is put in the position of playing straight-woman to Wiig, McKinnon, and Jones. She may be the sensible one, but she’s also the one with the stiletto-sharp sense of irony, and, as always, that impeccable sincerity that translates what seems very ordinary into an apotheosis of comedy. As Wiig pines clumsily for the eye-candy receptionist (Chris Hemsworth) who is as obliviously clueless as he is beautiful, as Jones fills the screen with outsize indignant bravado, and as McKinnon channels the bottled effervescence of a mad scientist with the glee of someone enjoying a private joke and a gleam in her eyes that is a signpost pointing the way to crazy town, in the middle of it all, there is McCarthy, the grounding center, absorbing the madness and reflecting it back like a funhouse mirror.
It also takes a chance by starting big with a breathtaking ghost making an appearance 15 or so minutes in, putting itself in the position of having to top itself or risk a badly disappointed audience. Never fear. The ghosts, rendered in suitably glowing neon colors, never lack for originality, and even at their most grotesque, the have a peculiar beauty as well as genuine spookiness. This is a comedy that scares you as it’s making you guffaw and catching you off guard with its clever quips (face bidets are mentioned in passing) and slick turns.
GHOSTBUSTERS floats along like the ectoplasm it celebrates.
GHOSTBUSTERS floats along like the ectoplasm it celebrates. Silly but solidly crafted, it’s a blockbuster that glories in its visual effects, but doesn’t rely solely on them to light up the screen.