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With: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Zach Woods, Ed Begley Jr., Charles Dance, Karan Soni, Steve Higgins, Neil Casey, Nate Corddry, Michael McDonald, Michael Kenneth Williams, Matt Walsh, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Ozzy Osbourne
Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig, based on a screenplay by Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Directed by: Paul Feig
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor
Running Time: 116
Date: 07/15/2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Heat 'Em Up!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In this age of Trump, with a myriad of nasty little fears and hatreds bubbling up from all corners of America, the new Ghostbusters reboot has caused quite a stir. Apparently, people everywhere are furious that four women have taken over the franchise, replacing four men. This seems, to me, a completely misplaced bit of rage. The making of this version involves not one bit of change in the original version. It's still there. The correct and true answer is, of course women can be Ghostbusters, and a great deal more besides. Why not? (Why aren't people angry about Warcraft, or any number of other cinematic insults hurled this year?)

That aside, these four women combine their efforts to help create what could be the funniest movie I've seen in this dismal year. They are guided by Paul Feig, a terrific director who seems to be able to handle fast-moving action and different kinds of comedy, and also appreciates women; it would be great if there were more female directors in the world, but that's another story. Feig is an acceptable interpreter in the conversation.

Feig has begun from scratch with Ghostbusters, telling largely the same story with a few minor tweaks. It's the characters here that are key. They are as funny as their predecessors, yes, but they come from a different place. They are doing this for different reasons. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a professor hoping for tenure at a respected college, when she finds out that a book about ghosts she once co-authored is available on Amazon and could hurt her chances. She contacts her writing partner and estranged friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and asks her to remove the book.

Abby agrees, but first, there's a report of a haunting in New York. Erin and Abby check it out, along with Abby's new partner, half-mad scientist and gadget-builder Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Once they see an actual apparition, all hatchets are buried and the women become excited about ghosts again. (It helps that they all lose their jobs and must go into business for themselves.) A worker for the transit system who proudly knows her New York history, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), becomes a fourth member of the team, and a blonde, good-looking "himbo" named Kevin (a hilarious Chris Hemsworth) lands a job as their receptionist.

In the original Ghostbusters (1984), supernatural stuff simply started happening by itself, but this time it's perpetrated by a little weasel of a man, a brainy nerd, Rowan North (Neil Casey), tired of being dumped on and hoping for a little power of his own. The girls must figure out what he's up to and stop a full-scale spirit invasion. Quite a lot of the material from this is pilfered from the original, including nods to the green "slimer" ghost and the "Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man" as well as the solution to the whole thing, which involves an abuse of the semi-stable nuclear equipment the team uses to catch ghosts.

But while Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson were basically swaggering goofballs, these girls have a past. As a girl, Erin saw a ghost that haunted her for a year, and when nobody believed her, she was put in therapy and mercilessly teased her entire childhood. Abby was her only friend. Basically, the two are looking for some kind of acceptance in the world, maybe a little vindication. It's understandable and appealing. Under the surface, of course, is that women have to work a little harder to get what men get in this world. Patty, in particular, is shown being nice and chatty to her customers on the subway, and being almost totally ignored. What's wrong with wanting a little attention, a little acknowledgement?

Feig and his screenwriter Katie Dippold (The Heat) correctly avoid re-creating the off-kilter (Murray-heavy) chemistry of the original group, and instead create a new, more balanced one. Wiig is the "straight" woman, but with a few good one-liners (and a helpless crush on Kevin). McCarthy, usually the scene-stealer in Feig's movies, is toned down, and made more sympathetic; her biggest laughs involve delivered soup. Jones brings some big laughs, and, like Will Ferrell in Elf (2003), her large frame alone already provides a certain kind of humor. (I died when she removes an invading spirit from Abby by slapping her face and screaming "The power of Patty compels you!!!") McKinnon is the wild card; she's traditionally gorgeous, blonde, perky nose, haunting blue eyes, etc., but she behaves like some rubber bands have snapped inside. She's stone-cold crazy, wildly unpredictable. She mugs a little like Murray used to mug, but I think she maintains an appeal, and I think she ultimately plays well with the group.

Though the movie provided me with a much larger number and higher quality of laughter than anything else I've seen in 2016 (except maybe Keanu), I did leave with the regret that, in 1984, this was an exciting, largely original creation and now it's ultimately a fan film, although I did find it more enthusiastic and refreshing than the perfunctory sequel Ghostbusters II (1989) — and, it goes without saying, much better than McCarthy's last comedy, The Boss. This is our movie industry in 2016, finding safety in re-working proven ideas rather than risking money on new ideas, which is definitely a huge contributor to the largely disappointing movies we've been seeing lately.

However, Feig and McCarthy and company have now delivered four terrific films (this, plus Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy), and I have no doubt that they have more in store. And, perhaps more important are the political ramifications of the new Ghostbusters. Very simply: women can do this. If the movie is successful, it could open a few more doors, and the world could become a better place. More films powered by women could only help shake up this stale behemoth of an industry. But if the movie is not successful, then at least it will have given a few of us some good laughs.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released a jam-packed Blu-ray, with the 117-minute theatrical cut and a whopping 133-minute "extended" cut. Colors seem a bit on the red side, but otherwise the quality is okay. It comes with two commentary tracks, one by director Feig and writer Katie Dippold, and a second one by other crew members (no cast commentary). The many extras include deleted and extended scenes, gag reels, interviews, featurettes, photos, and trailers for other Sony features at startup. The reception to this movie still puzzles me, and my best guess is that it stems more from a deep-seated national sexism than from any kind of opposition to a remake. (Many other remakes come and go unchallenged.) But if you're game, give it a shot and you may find it quite funny.

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