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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

* * *

Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon

So here we are, finally. After over a year of internet-destroying discussion, the most controversial movie of 2016 (at least until The Birth of a Nation comes out in October, I presume) is here. I'll skip any kind of commentary on the war of words between those who believe that the original Ghostbusters is sacrosanct and those who think that the extreme reaction to the idea of a reboot and subsequent campaign against the finished film is fueled by the most impotent kind of misogyny. It's not that I take no position on the subject; it's just that I'm so bored with it at this point that I'd rather leave this particular hill to those who have decided they're willing to die on it. So, to the point: I liked it! I thought it was really funny and Kate McKinnon is an absolute treasure. It's not a masterpiece, but it's good summer fun.

Like Bridesmaids before it, Ghostbusters is rooted in a story about a once-close friendship that has become strained. In this case those friends are Erin (Kristin Wiig) and Abby (Melissa McCarthy), two scientists who once co-authored a book about the paranormal together but had a falling out when Erin disavowed the book out of fear of not being taken seriously as a scientist. Now Erin is on the verge of getting tenure at Columbia and learns that the book, which she thought was long since buried, is available for purchase thanks to Abby's efforts to keep it in circulation. In an effort to get rid of the book and protect her reputation, Erin tracks Abby down and then gets drawn into a paranormal investigation with her and her new associate, Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), during the course of which the three encounter a ghost and Erin is turned back into a believer. After Erin is fired from Columbia, and Abby and Holtzmann are tossed out of their own institution, the three set up shop above a Chinese restaurant and their team expands to include Patty (Leslie Jones), a subway worker whose encounter with a ghost sends her their way, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), an aspiring actor whom they hire to be their receptionist.

Billing themselves as the "Department of the Metaphysical Examination," but colloquially known as the "Ghostbusters," the group investigates the paranormal throughout New York, but their attempts to prove the validity of their work by documenting it on video only results in people speculating that it's all a hoax. While the Mayor (Andy Garcia) and Homeland Security encourage the Ghostbusters to start keeping a lower profile so that people don't get freaked out, paranormal activity is on the rise thanks to Rowan (Neil Casey), an occultist who has built a device that can bring ghosts into the world as part of his ultimate plot to kickstart the apocalypse. While the Ghostbusters have plenty of new gadgets at their disposal thanks to Holtzmann's tireless efforts, Rowan's power is swiftly growing to insurmountable levels. With the fate of New York, and the world, soon hanging in the balance, it's up to the Ghostbusters to stop Rowan and close the portal he's opened to the ghost dimension.

I can't say that Ghostbusters is perfect. On a totally shallow note, I hate the Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliott take on the theme song and there's a moment in the film where Rowan, who develops the ability to take on whatever form he chooses, gets turned into a cartoon character that completely took me out of the movie for a minute. I also think that the film's characterization of Rowan is a bit weak, in that it feels like he was conceived as a preemptive response to fanboy haters, which in turn puts the film in a defensive mode that I don't think serves it particularly well. That said, on the whole, I found Ghostbusters to be greatly entertaining. The four leads have great chemistry together, with McCarthy and Wiig providing the story with some emotional grounding through their characters' shared history and shifting relationship, while Jones and McKinnon do most of the comedic heavy lifting (with help from Hemsworth, who is just brutally funny as dimwitted Kevin) despite their underwritten roles. If Furiosa was the Queen of the summer of 2015, the torch effectively gets passed on to Holtzmann thanks to her badassery during the film's climax and the sustained low-grade insanity of McKinnon's performance, and for my money Jones is responsible for the single funniest line reading in the film ("room full of nightmares").

When all is said and done, despite being turned into a cinematic flashpoint, Ghostbusters is a solid and solidly entertaining movie - nothing more, nothing less. It's funny from the word "go," features some beautifully rendered ghouls, and incorporates almost all of its cameos and references to the original film smoothly and without disrupting the flow of the story. I'd watch it again (just as I have director Paul Feig's Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy) and if and when they make a sequel, I'm sure I'll see that, too.

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