PLOT A team of supernatural exterminators must save New York City from the apocalypse. (Opens Friday)
CAST Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon
RATED PG-13 (language and ghoulish imagery)
BOTTOM LINE The female-led cast is a promising idea, but this reboot of the 1984 classic isn’t as fresh or funny as it could have been.
“Ghostbusters,” a reworking of the 1984 comedy classic about four paranormal pest controllers in New York City, has all the makings of a summer blockbuster: a beloved “property,” a female cast led by Melissa McCarthy and a gifted director, Paul Feig, who helped turn “Bridesmaids” into a game-changing comedy.
So what’s wrong with this picture? It isn’t a gender problem, as the misogynist YouTubers who blasted the film’s trailer in March would like to believe. It’s a nostalgia problem. Unwilling to deviate too much from the original movie — it’s riddled with references and cameos — “Ghostbusters” never establishes its own identity, female or otherwise. Despite some amusing moments and ad-libbed lines, the movie exists in a purgatory between reinvention and repetition.
Its two screenwriters (Feig and Katie Dippold) and four stars (all talented veterans of “Saturday Night Live”) struggle to make this movie their own. Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a respectable Columbia physicist with secret theories about the afterlife. By contrast, McCarthy’s Abby Yates is an out-and-proud ghost hunter. Abby’s colleague Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) is both scientific genius and zany hipster — a combo, perhaps, of the original roles played by the late Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. Leslie Jones, as subway worker Patty Tolan, gets more screen time than her black counterpart in 1984, Ernie Hudson.
“Ghostbusters” rarely mines gender for comedy, which — depending on your point of view — is either a blow for equality or a missed opportunity. There’s potential humor in the idea that four women would hire a dumb hunk, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), as their receptionist, but his routines aren’t exactly inspired. (He owns a dog confusingly named Mike Hat). Mostly, “Ghostbusters” provides very slight twists on well-remembered scenes: The old library is now a haunted mansion, the fancy hotel becomes a rock venue, the menacing Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is — well, no spoilers, but something very similar.
Speaking of similarities: Why is the new team’s ghost-mobile a carbon copy of the old one? Why is there a bust of Ramis outside Wiig’s office? These are meant as affectionate tributes, but they prevent the movie from creating a fresh, new world. In the end, “Ghostbusters” can’t escape the ghost of its past.