That the dry comicality of the original “Ghostbusters” worked so well was connected directly to the righteous chemistry and spectacular riffing of its principal cast. And although Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” reboot frequently diverges from its 1984 template, the former’s appeal is connected just as much to its own stellar cast’s chemistry and riffing. Even if Feig’s film is strangely, paradoxically over-dependent and seemingly disinterested in its ghostly special effects, and even though the comedy never really gets turned up to eleven, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones have such a good time in each other’s company that they render this reboot as being predominantly about their characters’ joyful camaraderie.
Though this new “Ghostbusters” makes certain to reference the past, carving out cameos for the original main cast, even including an honorary bust for the deceased Harold Ramis, Feig and Katie Dippold’s screenplay is not overly dependent on its predecessor. Doctors Erin Gilbert (Wiig), Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Jillian Holtzman (McKinnon) don’t seem interested in subversion in so much as the elation that their shared belief in the existence of ghosts provides. Erin might initially downplay her true beliefs in the paranormal to try and score tenure at Columbia, but once she tags along with Abby and Holtzman to a haunted historical house where they see an apparition, Erin engages in full. The trio forms a paranormal investigating unit, quickly blooming into a quartet when Patty Tolan (Jones), who encounters a specter in the bowels of the MTA where she works, just kind of insinuates herself into the team on account of her fiery personality. After all, ghosts are on the loose in New York and no one knows New York like Patty.
At times, however, you wished this movie knew New York as well. Filmed primarily in Boston and Australia, this “Ghostbusters” misses the big city vibe that lent the original, for all its absurdity, such an authentic feel. And that isn’t to say the reboot needed to copy every move, but there was a scuzzy, indie vibe to the original movie, one that has been mostly tamped out in this version for a more polished professionalism that often feels paramount in keeping the humor a bit buttoned-up.
The new villain, meanwhile, Rowan North (Neil Casey), summoning apparitions all over the metropolitan area to engender Armageddon, is less Gozer and more Janosz Poha by way of Kevin Smith living in his mom’s basement in “Live Free or Die Hard.” The latter reference is not for kicks. Casey’s insecure nerdiness plays rather deliberate, given the asinine blowback this project incurred upon its announcement from insecure nerdy males, as does the litany of other males our ladies encounter throughout, from the Columbia Department Head scoffing at Erin’s clothing choices to the New York Mayor who does not want to be compared to the mayor in “Jaws” to the Homeland Security dude duo who admit the existence of spooks and specters but want to reap all the glory for themselves. This isn’t a bad story idea, but it also means the men, more than the actual ghosts, become the enemy. And that causes the obligatory finale, laden with special effects, to feel overlong and almost unnecessary, terribly missing that neat, funny building-to with Stay Puft.
Still, there is something simultaneously refreshing in how the movie does not make the vanquishing of ghosts proof of the girls being as good as the boys because, hey, they already are. We see this in how no male approximation of Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett is needed to show that getting a man is as good busting a ghost. We see this in the character of Holtzman, who is introduced in one of those She’s Suddenly In The Shot Reveals, evoking the sense that her character arrives fully formed, already. If the quartet meshes perfectly, McKinnon is the one who stands out, though not by hogging the spotlight. No, I’m not sure I have ever seen a performer so emphatically dominate a movie from the edge of the frame, where her incredible wide-eyed grins routinely express a blithely askew view of the proceedings. When Abby gets sent on a ride by her proton pack, the humor is not in Abby flying through the air but in Holtzman’s dry commentary: “She’s doing a marvelous impression of a deflating balloon.”
Unlike the original Ghostbusters, these never really get a true celebratory montage, seeing as how routinely they are pushed to the margins by idiot males. But frankly, they don’t need one. They are cool doing what they do and being who they are and they don’t need and aren’t asking for your approval. That’s why there is no one moment more emblematic of this reboot than when, upon entering the Mayor’s office, Holtzman casually and without permission puts her boot up on his desk. She’s in charge.