Ghostbusters

Directed by Paul Feig 

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones

Rated PG-13

View the trailer here.

Not long ago I read somewhere that most people stop listening to new music when they reach age 35 or so.  Sounds about right, since so little “new” music is really new.  (Or music.)  This same cutoff date may apply to comedians, or comic actors.  I’ve been hearing the hype for months about how irresistible an idea it is to have an all-female remake of Ghostbusters starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones.  And I found myself asking: who?  Turns out three of them were, or are, with Saturday Night Live.  That explains it: I haven’t watched SNL since John Belushi was alive and Chevy Chase was funny.  Other than that, they’ve done a lot of TV work in shows I haven’t watched, and a lot of voice work in animated movies I haven’t seen.  So no wonder they’re not familiar to me.

The premise of this reboot is the same as the original: a quartet of paranormal investigators rig up a high-tech, cutting-edge method of capturing and warehousing ghosts, with which New York City is swarming.  They discover a situation that’s triggering a spike in paranormal activity—in this case, a weirdo loner with an axe to grind, and delusions of grandeur on an apocalyptic scale.  They run afoul of government officials and bureaucrats in their efforts to round up the ghosts (the first one of which, for some reason, is actually a demon: wings, horns, and all).  Comic mayhem ensues.

In fact, the movie is so familiar it’s enough to make you wonder why the producers didn’t just go ahead with Ghostbusters III back when Harold Ramis was still alive.  The answer, by the way: they couldn’t convince Bill Murray to participate.  Well, he’s back for this one, in a prominent cameo, though not as Dr. Peter Venkman.  Most of the rest of the original cast turn up in cameos as well, along with some familiar paranormal faces.  (I won’t spoil it for you.)  The main thing these guest appearances do is remind you that the new Ghostbusters isn’t what the original was: an original.

In fact, about the only thing missing is laughs.  Much of the forced humor derives from quibbling and bickering among the principals in the cast, or from the running one-joke of how spectacularly stupid their hunky receptionist (Chris Hemsworth) is.  And I find myself wondering how long liberal, inclusive Hollywood will continue using black actors and actresses as comic foils, even in the midst of a comedy.  The cast features McCarthy, Wiig, and McKinnon as highly educated and technically skilled scientists—and Leslie Jones as a streetwise transit worker along for the ride.  I’m reminded of the ’90s TV series Sliders, which featured several brilliant white physicists embarking on a hazardous experiment—and a black musician (the “minstrel” stereotype) who, running late for a gig, stumbles onto the scene and gets caught up into the action by accident.  Hollywood, knock it off.

Look, it’s no skin off my nose that the new Ghostbusters is an only faintly amusing exercise in déjà vu.  Fact is, I’m not a huge fan of the originals; they’re droll enough, and they make full use of their exceptional comic cast—much of the dialog, and almost all of Bill Murray’s, was improvised.  But I don’t have either of them on DVD.  (Properly done—which isn’t easy—horror comedies are a favorite of mine.  It helps if they’re really funny, like this, or really over the top, like this.)  Probably the best thing about the new Ghostbusters is that its makers remember to pay homage to the originals—all the way to the scene after the end credits, which hints at a sequel by way of yet another reference to the original.  But all that really does is remind you how much better the originals were.  Catch this one on cable.

Lyndon Joslin