Let’s start with the good news: The new Ghostbusters is funny and entertaining, the story moves along at a solid clip and has lots of cameos from the stars of the original 1986 Ghostbusters too. The story works just fine with four women in the lead roles instead of the four men in the original film.
That’s not the problem with this remake. The problems arise when you ask whether it’s more than just amusing. Turns out that there’s not much actual story, no real narrative crescendo that is resolved in the last reel. And that’s because of the second, bigger problem: The new film spends way too much effort paying homage to the original movie without really blazing its own trail narratively.
There aren’t just cameos, for example, there are characters on screen that have pointless, flat scenes that break the narrative flow for no real benefit. Chief among them is original ’86 Ghostbusters star Bill Murray as Dr. Martin Heiss. He doesn’t even look like he wants to be in front of the camera in his scenes.
And then there’s the storyline, which liberally borrows sets, scenes and story elements from the original goofy, whimsical movie. There’s enough different that it’s not a remake, but that being the case, they didn’t judiciously pay homage in subtle, nuanced ways, the production team uses the first film as a scrapbook from which to yank concepts as LEGO pieces. It gets a bit weird how often it occurs, and expect articles on “100 Ghostbusters Easter Eggs” as soon as the film’s out on DVD.
The basic storyline has Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) trying to attain tenure at Columbia University when a paranormal book she wrote with former best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) resurfaces on Amazon.com. That’ll torpedo her chance at tenure, so she marches over to the Paranormal Research Lab to confront the crass, rude Abby, meets nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and the three of them are unceremoniously kicked out of the college.
While that’s happening, there are also ghost sightings, include the terrific opening scene house haunting. The three women decide to open a service where they’ll use Holtzmann’s crazy inventions to capture the ghosts and spirits that are haunting various spots in New York City. They can’t afford the fire station from the first film (look closely, it’s a great reproduction) so they end up above a Chinese restaurant. Ghostbusters!
Add the clueless git Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) as the eye candy secretary and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) as the hilarious straight-talking no-nonsense fourth Ghostbuster and you have the cast of the film. Hemsworth has a lot of fun with the role of the dumb beefcake, as does Wiig with her fawning interactions with him, delivering some of the funniest lines and moments in the film.
The four women also deliver good performances, though my film-viewing friends and I disagreed on who was best in their role. I enjoyed Wiig and Tolan and found McCarthy her usual crass self and McKinnon rather inexplicable as a sort of 80’s throwback mad scientist who would be better suited for a remake of Doctor Detroit.
Adding to that, however, this new Ghostbusters movie is far more crude than the original film. In fact, there are so many crude jokes and scenes that the new movie definitely earns its PG-13 rating and I wouldn’t recommend taking younger children to the theater.
Still, all of the problems aside, I did laugh a lot during Ghostbusters. There are some very funny lines, some amusing visuals and it’s a movie that zips along to its quite inevitable conclusion, all the while proving entertaining. If you enjoy the raunchy humor of director Paul Feig and comic star Melissa McCarthy, the crude lines and sophomoric punchlines won’t bother you a bit. If that’s not your thing, there are just a handful of cringeworthy lines, and you can definitely still enjoy this updated Ghostbusters movie.
Tip: There’s a post-credits scene. And it doesn’t involve any Marvel characters. But stay and watch it anyway.