Ghostbusters Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones. Directed by Paul Feig. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
Over the course of the three action-comedies that they’ve now made together, director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy have managed to deliver bigger and bigger action while holding onto the freewheeling humor that made Bridesmaids the breakout movie for both of them. Like their previous collaborations The Heat and Spy, the duo’s new Ghostbusters remake features strong comedy with an impressively talented cast, but eventually ends up overwhelmed by the demands of its large-scale action storyline.
Before that, though, it’s an entertainingly goofy comedy that offers a slightly different take on the beloved 1984 original starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Respectable physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) reunites with her disreputable old friend Abby Yates (McCarthy), who’s studying the paranormal alongside the eccentric Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and the three scientists start their ghostbusting business after being booted from their academic jobs. Along with former MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an expert in NYC history and geography, they work to rid New York City of a supernatural infestation.
The basic structure is familiar from the original, although many of the details have been changed, and the real appeal is the comedic chemistry among the four talented main performers. Feig may have broadened his scope as a filmmaker since Bridesmaids, but his strength still lies in putting a bunch of funny people onscreen together and letting them riff on each other. The best parts of Ghostbusters involve the main characters in their lab, talking over some ridiculous techno-babble or ogling their beautiful but unbelievably dumb receptionist (Chris Hemsworth, poking good-natured fun at his pretty-boy image).
The movie loses steam in its third act when it has to justify its status as a blockbuster action movie, as the characters get overshadowed by the special-effects set pieces. Feig isn’t as adept at directing action as he is at directing actors, and at worst the climax, with comedy stars battling giant CGI blobs on the chaotic streets of New York, resembles something like Pixels. Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold (who also wrote The Heat) spend more time than the original creators did on building up backstory and mythology, and some of that also weighs down the comedy.
There are plentiful references to the original, some of which are clever and some of which bring the movie to a screeching halt. By the third or fourth cameo, it seems like Feig and Dippold are apprehensive about letting their movie stand on its own. There’s no reason they should be; for a movie declared alternately a travesty or a triumph months before its premiere, Ghostbusters succeeds perfectly well as fun, accessible mainstream entertainment.