Movie News & Reviews

‘Ghostbusters’: Ready, aim, laughter — 2.5 stars

The new crew of Ghostbusters (from left): Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones), firing away at a new crop of paranormal marauders.
The new crew of Ghostbusters (from left): Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones), firing away at a new crop of paranormal marauders. Columbia Pictures

They hated the idea of remaking “Ghostbusters” with a female cast. Hated the racial stereotyping suggested in the trailer. Just plain hated the trailer. And really, really hated the remake of the theme song by Fall Out Boy.

Prior to its release, the film’s primary villains weren’t ghosts; they were internet trolls.

But these petulant posters will need to retract some of their venomous barbs because the 2016 “Ghostbusters” proves plenty entertaining, with lively performances and even a few moments of creepy tension before the blockbuster effects eventually overwhelm the humor.

It’s not in the league of the absurdist 1984 classic. But, hey, it’s sure better than “Ghostbusters II.”

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Filmmaker Paul Feig gathers an ensemble cobbled from his “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” cast, alongside a batch of “Saturday Night Live” vets, for a remake that serves as more of an homage than straight-up rip-off. Same concept with mostly new gags.

Physics professor Erin (Kristen Wiig) is mortified to learn a kooky paranormal book written with former ghost-hunting partner Abby (Melissa McCarthy) has resurfaced and derailed her tenure track at Columbia University. Now that their streams have crossed (so to speak), Erin and Abby reunite to investigate a few vivid hauntings that appear connected.

Joining the pair are Jillian (Kate McKinnon), an eccentric tech whiz, and Patty (Leslie Jones), a transit worker and encyclopedic amateur historian. This quartet sets up shop above a stingy Chinese restaurant, next recruiting Kevin (Chris Hemsworth, just killing the role), an Adonis-like secretary who earns the job despite his “many frustrating quirks.”

Time to bust ghosts!

The glut of apparitions pestering the city is traced to bellboy Rowan (Neil Casey), who’s always ranting about the “fourth cataclysm” and how “the universe will bend beneath your will.” Interestingly, Rowan comes across like a bullied loser who keeps spouting diatribes to an indifferent audience. Essentially, he’s an internet troll.

Feig’s idea of payback, perhaps?

Also under his direction, most of the “Ghostbusters” stars of 32 years ago return for plot-impeding cameos. Bill Murray plays a supernatural debunker, phoning it in with a gaze of pure disdain. And the in-jokes and who-ya-gonna-callbacks elicit nods of recognition but scant laughs. (The inclusion of the hungry green “Slimer” feels almost court-ordered.)

In trying to appease nostalgic fans, Feig seems hesitant. Defensive. But whenever his new flick relies on its own merits, it’s quite amusing.

The four leads provide novel creations, not at all aping Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis or Ernie Hudson. Feig has demonstrated repeatedly he can cull compelling performances from the talented Wiig and McCarthy. The latter proves even more likable when she’s not appearing in R-rated fare, where her improvisational skills rely too much on vulgarity instead of punch lines.

Feig (who co-wrote the screenplay with Katie Dippold of “The Heat”) caught flak for the trailer’s depiction of Jones, which seemed to capitalize on a stereotypical “mad black woman” role for the breakthrough “SNL” star. Kudos to Feig, because in full context of the plot, Jones emerges as reasonably well-rounded and affable.

Actually, all of the leads are convincing, with the exception of McKinnon. There’s not a hint of reality to her portrayal. The impressive sketch comedian parades the same weird energy as usual, but here she’s too knowingly wacky. When matched to her grounded co-stars, McKinnon’s Joker grin and Tweety Bird eyes grow even more cartoonish.

Still, the movie builds up our good will … until the third act devolves into a cacophonous special effects reel. Relentless, elaborate effects.

Is there any difference between the ending of “Ghostbusters” and “The Avengers”? Or more comparably, “Pixels”? Here’s yet another faceless, monstrous horde attacking New York City while civilians scatter and the heroes scramble in defense. Not scary. Not funny. Just noisy.

The original “Ghostbusters” figured out how to maintain the hilarity throughout the finale, as the iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man lumbered through Manhattan. This time it’s the movie itself that lumbers.

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”

‘Ghostbusters’

  1/2

Rated PG-13.

Time: 1:48.

3-D or not 3-D?

Gorgeous 3-D enriches the presentation, lending even more impact to some notable in-your-face gags.

Who ya gonna call?

Director Paul Feig explains how he cast his four leading ladies:

▪ Melissa McCarthy: She was instrumental to his big hits “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat” and “Spy,” so of course she was on board from the start.

▪ Kristen Wiig: Feig thought the “Bridesmaids” star had moved on to dramas. “Then, out of the blue, my wife was talking to Kristen and she said, ‘Oh, I know Paul’s doing “Ghostbusters,” and if he’d ever want me to do any little part in it, I’d love to.’ ” Done.

▪ Kate McKinnon: Feig wanted wacky. Her “Saturday Night Live” impersonations of Justin Bieber sealed the deal.

▪ Leslie Jones: Feig happened to be watching “Weekend Update” on “SNL.” “About a minute into her bit, I sat up and said to my wife, ‘That’s one of our Ghostbusters,’ ” Feig said.

(Source: Columbia Pictures)

Sharon Hoffmann, shoffmann@kcstar.com

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