Review: Who ya gonna call? Not these ‘Ghostbusters’

Rebooted ‘Ghostbusters’ has a talented cast but is weighed down by a lame villain and its need to pay homage to the past

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The rebooted, all-female “Ghostbusters” is a bit of a bust, a supernatural slip-up that lives in the shadow of its predecessor and can’t sustain its own momentum.

Calm down, zealots: It’s not the childhood-bulldozing dreamcrusher all those sunlight-deprived internet commenters feared (or secretly hoped) it would be.

Yet its laughs dry up around the midway mark, leaving just faint chuckles and nods of familiarity for the remainder of the film. You want to like it, but its goodwill is stretched thin, and that’s before the Fall Out Boy version of the theme song kicks in.

It’s not the cast’s fault and it’s not that they’re women; these four ladies can wield a proton pack just as powerfully as their male counterparts.

It’s the script where “Ghostbusters” gets slimed. Writers Paul Feig (who also directed) and Katie Dippold take plenty of care while setting up the story of four New Yorkers who team up to take on paranormal spirits. But once the team is established, they take on a dud villain and get themselves lost in a busy, incoherent climax.

Things start off promisingly. Kristen Wiig is Erin Gilbert, a college professor looking to distance herself from her past, when she authored a book on ghosts along with her former associate Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Yates has continued her research along with her new partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon, all quirk), a wacked-out paranormal expert who specializes in building weapons to stop spirits.

When ghost activity begins to rise in the city, Gilbert is pulled back in and the team investigates the poltergeists. The threesome grows to four with the addition of Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a subway worker in the city who brings a deep knowledge of the city’s history to the team.

“Bridesmaids” co-stars Wiig and McCarthy have a natural chemistry and riff well off of each other, and their relationship forms the core of the group. McKinnon and Jones’ characters aren’t as well defined, and they’re mostly along for the quips; the humor throughout is very 2016 self-aware, where a joke isn’t finished until it’s acknowledged, turned inward and then dismissed, and characters wind up talking like comedy writers discussing a joke. (A simple Patrick Swayze mention unfolds into references to “Dirty Dancing,” “Ghost,” “Road House” and “Point Break,” with discussions of each.)

Chris Hemsworth is on board as a clueless receptionist who is eye candy for Wiig’s character; his is a gender flip on the typical bubbly dingbat secretary role, and he’s the source of some of the film’s best and most off-center laughs. Former “SNL” writer Neil Casey is the aforementioned dud villain, playing a bullied creep who summons the spirit world to wreak havoc on the city that’s tormented him for years.

Like J.J. Abrams with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Feig is deeply reverential toward his source material, and crams in all sorts of nods to the first film and cameos from its cast. But where Abrams took that framework and built a new story from it, Feig uses the first film and the audience’s memory of it as a constant crutch. He’s so busy paying homage to the past (same car, same logo, same Stay Puft Marshmallow Man) that he fails to create his own present.

We live in strange times indeed when “Ghostbusters” has become as divisive as it has, and there’s more at play in the film’s pre-release reaction than just a remake of a beloved ’80s comedy. While the new movie isn’t worthy of the vitriol it has received online, it’s also not good enough to shut those haters up. It sits in the middle, wanting to blaze a new trail but haunted by the ghosts of its past.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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@grahamorama

‘Ghostbusters’

GRADE: C

Rated PG-13: for supernatural action and some crude humor

Running time: 117 minutes