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Arriving sight unseen on a wave of very bad will courtesy of fanboy trolls all riled up after a lackluster trailer earlier this summer, Paul Feig’s very clever Ghostbusters reboot should shut them down and satisfy anyone looking for a fluffy piece of summer escape with a lot of laughs, a healthy dose of nostalgia and some fun special effects. Perfectly cast with Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones doing the heavy lifting of busting spectral baddies haunting Manhattan, the new film is a barrage of clever gags that only a joyless misogynist could resist.
The first thing to know about Ghostbusters is that no one involved takes a lick of it seriously—the entire thing is played tongue-in-cheek with the actors in on the joke, deadpanning to save their lives while tossing off ten jokes a minute. It is a smartly contemporary gender reversal gently affectionate to Ivan Reitman’s 1984 original but with a new screenplay of terrific jokes, courtesy of Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation).
Wiig plays straight man here as Columbia University professor and physicist Erin Gilbert, about to achieve tenure from the uptight dean (Charles Dance) when a long-buried secret—a book she wrote decades earlier and assumed destroyed—suddenly resurfaces. Titled “Ghosts from the Past: Literally and Figuratively” and co-authored by former college buddy and avowed paranormal expert Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, on blast). Erin has long since abandoned any delusions of the paranormal, while her former friend still longs for legitimacy.
Abby has dedicated her life to proving the existence of paranormal entities, partnering up with the movie’s real star, SNL’s Kate McKinnon, who steals every second onscreen as daffy inventor and resident tech support guru Dr. Jillian Holtzmann. McKinnon, delivering an original comic character infused with loony, unpredictable vocal and physical tics, nearly walks away with the movie.
When the book’s existence becomes public, Erin is unceremoniously fired (right). In need of cash, she reluctantly joins the pair of ghost hunters, setting up shop above a downtown Chinese restaurant, providing a running gag about underwhelming wonton soup.
Rounding out the quartet is Manhattan transit agent Patty, smartly played in broad strokes by comedian Leslie Jones. Patty leads the trio into a subway tunnel and scene of a ghost sighting, and before long she’s battling a winged demon above a metal concert to be headlined by Ozzy Osborne.
Enter a winning Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, the hunky airhead who becomes their receptionist and in one of the film’s funniest scenes, undergoes a loony job interview involving a dog’s name, some clueless logo designs, lens-free eyeglasses and a telephone in a fish tank. Hemsworth, a nimble comedian, displays an endearing lightness of touch.
Also along is Andy Garcia as the beleaguered mayor, who takes umbrage to being compared to Murray Hamilton in Jaws and has a very funny bit in an office scene asking the ladies to “put the cat back in the bag.” That’s one of many rapid-fire jokes that start right from the beginning when we’re informed that a landmark mansion was once surrounded by “an anti-Irish fence.” Once the four women hit their stride, there are riffs on everything from the devil to corpses stacked like “flapjacks” in a hearse to dead pilgrim ghosts to Patrick Swayze’s pottery prowess.
Perhaps most pleasantly, the big special effects finale, usually a bombastic staple of movies like this, doesn’t overtake the characters, even when they’re trapped beneath a behemoth marshmallow man.
While cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and even Sigourney Weaver amp up the nostalgia level along with the original theme song, the new Ghostbusters is a sweet, amusing movie with its own identity, referential but smart and to my memory, even funnier than the original.