Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" Might Just Be The Best "Ghostbusters"

Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” is funny right out of the gate, springing preternaturally hilarious “Silicon Valley” actor Zach Woods on audiences and never looking back. What started in 2011 with Feig seizing the male-dominated R-rated comedy sphere for women (“Bridesmaids”), then the buddy cop realm (“The Heat”), and then spy movies (“Spy”) culminates here in four uproariously funny women toplining an honest-to-God summer special effects extravaganza. Unheard of. Better yet, it turns out to be the year’s biggest crowd-pleaser and, at long last, the spiritual sequel to Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” that die-hards have longed for since 1984 – whether they’ll admit to it or not.

Taking a cue from Eon Productions’ James Bond series, Feig’s “Ghostbusters” starts anew but with plenty of references to the series’ past. There’s the same iconic logo, Ray Parker Jr.’s ubiquitous theme song, a gleeful appearance from Slimer, and cameos aplenty. But this is a new beginning, form-fitted to the talents of its four leads – Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones – telling the story of a present day New York City that has yet to know the Ghostbusters.

The screenplay centers on Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) and Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy), former colleagues who have long since drifted apart after penning a controversial book about paranormal activity. Gilbert, now a professor at Columbia, is up for tenure but her scientifically dubious past has risen from the dead, threatening to railroad her academic career. This leads her to Yates’ lab in an effort to bury the book, if not the hatchet. To her surprise, her former friend is still chasing ghosts with new partner and professional oddball Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in tow.

Although the two don’t exactly make up on the spot, Gilbert is soon a believer again, and the trio decides to go all in on ghostbusting. It’s not long before they have a home base, an blithely stupid secretary (Chris Hemsworth), a familiar mode of transport, and a fourth team member: MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones).

The interplay between the titular quartet varies from chuckle-worthy to fall-down funny, with Wiig stealing the show and then McKinnon nabbing it from her, only to swing all the way back around to Hemworth’s delightfully dopey Kevin Beckman. He’s nearly as indispensable as the leads. But audiences will certainly remember McKinnon’s antics above all. Feig affords her the starmaking turn here that he once gave to Wiig and McCarthy, leaving her bevy of bizarre facial expressions, her reference to Pringles as “salty parabolas,” and her wobbly dance moves to DeBarge’s “Rhythm Of The Night” to be burned into the brains of moviegoers everywhere.

Even Andy Garcia gets in on the fun as the Mayor of New York City, delivering one of the film’s funniest lines. Fans of the godfather of summer blockbusters will be pleased.

The film’s villain, a petulant single white male occultist named Rowan (Neil Casey), mostly falls flat, but it’s hard not to credit Feig for wryly sneaking in commentary on his movie’s vocal detractors. And by the time the story escalates into supernatural warfare in Times Square, Rowan is ancient history. We’re in full-on summer movie mode, happily assailed by top-tier special effects and the movie’s most creative references to its predecessors.

Some of the aforementioned cameos from Ghostbusters past are strained (although met with rapturous applause at this critic’s screening). Yet, the picture – shot by longtime Wes Anderson cinematographer Robert Yeoman – is nothing if not in love with its source material (see: its wildly creative use of the original logo), going the extra mile again and again to make die-hards feel at home. When a joke or reference falls flat, it’s less failure than Feig trying to do too much to placate fans. But these instances are few and far between. For the most part the jokes land like Mike Tyson uppercuts, from the most esoteric to the silliest, broadest gags Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold have to offer.

With the franchise’s “Saturday Night Live” pedigree intact, “Ghostbusters” circa 2016 turns out to be everything summer movies should be: light, fizzy fun that’s accessible to just about everyone – provided they’re open to the idea in the first place. If the sound of Leslie Jones cursing a demon at the top of her lungs or the sight of Kristen Wiig awkwardly grinding on Chris Hemsworth doesn’t warm your ticker just a little bit, you might just be a ghost. In that case, look out – the Ghostbusters are back in what might be their finest hour (or two) yet.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Good)

Release Date: July 15, 2016
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Paul Feig
Screenwriter: Paul Feig, Katie Dippold
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Zach Woods, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams, Matt Walsh, Ed Begley Jr., Neil Casey
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for supernatural action and some crude humor)