There are a lot of acronyms in the new Ghostbusters. EVD, APX, and other three-letter esoterica remind us of the pseudoscience driving this paranormal comedy, but the filmmakers appear to have forgotten the most important one: LOL.
After more than a year of nakedly sexist backlash — whither the pre-release vitriol over every other cash-in reboot of the last decade? — Ghostbusters has finally arrived. In hindsight, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could feel so strongly about Paul Feig’s female-led reboot in either direction. The film is simply there, neither a childhood-destroying outrage nor a hater-silencing laugh riot. If not the bummer of the summer, it’s yet another reminder of how underwhelming this blockbuster season has been.
Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are all gifted comic performers. McCarthy’s previous collaborations with Feig — Spy, The Heat, and of course Bridesmaids, which Wiig co-wrote and starred in — range from decent to hilarious. Yet very few laughs have survived the transition of their sensibilities onto a wider, more expensive canvas. The result is like one of those standup specials you’d watch late at night on Netflix — amusing, but not enough to hold your attention as you drift off.
Most of the exceptions come from McKinnon, here playing an off-kilter gearhead whose manic energy is sorely lacking elsewhere in the film. It’s rare for a smirking, self-aware character in a high-concept franchise to constantly make light of the world around her without being overly persuasive and underscoring how silly this all is. She exudes a quiet confidence, as though the lines she has in her head are even better than the ones she’s allowed to deliver without jeopardizing the PG-13 rating.
The two leads play off each other as they have in the past, with Wiig as the tenure-track professor and McCarthy as the gadget-loving loose cannon. Their interplay must provide a few choice moments, but not any memorable ones.
Jones, as an MTA employee-turned-ghostbuster, completes the squad but is given little to do beyond complement her peers’ PhDs with ground-level insight on the city itself. Chris Hemsworth proves a surprisingly capable ad-libber as the dim-witted secretary who struggles to answer the phone and is mostly kept around for eye candy.
The film wastes little time providing indisputable proof of the supernatural, though New York’s skeptical citizenry refuses to believe it — as much as interdimensional rifts, these latter-day ghostbusters are competing with the 24/7 news cycle and instant social-media reactions to their antics. Some of it feels anticipatory, even meta, and at least one brief scene was added to subtly respond to the idiotic outrage with which Ghostbusters has been met by people who haven’t even seen it. But the movie itself has no mic-drop moment, nothing asserting itself as the bold statement its assembled talent is more than capable of creating.
The spirits they’re up against are striking nevertheless: translucent, multi-hued, at once electrical and watery. As these blue and green spectres go beyond the veil of their own dimension and are loosed upon the streets of New York, there’s a strange sense that this is Ghostbusters as it should be: weird, colorful, and a little unhinged. Ectoplasm aside, the rest of the film is too sterile to leave a mark.
Directed by Paul Feig
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