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Disappointing 'Ghostbusters' has its moments, but is a weak reboot of the 1984 classic

Posted July 21

“GHOSTBUSTERS” — 2½ stars — Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth; PG-13 (supernatural action and some crude humor); in general release

The best thing director Paul Feig could have done was to make “Ghostbusters” all his own, and the worst thing he could have done was to make it a nostalgic tribute to the original. Unfortunately, he landed somewhere in the muddy middle.

It’s hard to think of a 2016 release that is carrying more baggage. It was challenging enough to reboot one of the most beloved comedies of the 1980s, but the controversial decision to go with an all-female cast and an infamous YouTube trailer has the world (or at least the internet) waiting not to see if “Ghostbusters” is good, but if it is a disaster.

Well, it’s not a disaster. But it’s not all that great, either. Taken on its own merits, the new movie is a decent, perfectly harmless comedy. But that’s just the problem. You can’t evaluate “Ghostbusters” on just its own merits. No “Ghostbusters” is an island, and stacked against the charming 1984 original, the 2016 effort becomes a pale, unnecessary echo.

The plot is basically the same as in the original film, only watered down. Disgraced physicists in New York City set up shop as ghost exterminators, just in time to fend off the apocalypse.

Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a physicist who sacrifices her respectable pursuits to chase ghosts with her childhood friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy). Abby never gave respectability a second thought, and the dynamic between the two — meant to parallel original stars Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd — is one of the better parts of the film.

Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) is the quirky Egon Spengler of the group. She has her moments but frequently mugs for laughs rather than lets the comedy come organically. Leslie Jones is refreshing as Patty Tolan, who joins the team after quitting her MTA job.

Familiar sights such as Columbia University, the Hook & Ladder 8 fire station, and a face-to-face with the New York City mayor re-create beats from 30 years ago. But there are some differences. The team takes up residence in the space above a Chinese restaurant because the firehouse rent is 21 grand a month, and this time the Ghostbusters drive a remodeled hearse instead of an ambulance.

The most telling difference is that aforementioned apocalypse. The first film paired up Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver as the unholy mother and father of the End of the World (which, of course, took the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man). But here, we simply have a loser named Rowan (Neil Casey) who is using some of the Ghostbusters’ own technology to usher in what he calls, “The 4th Cataclysm.”

The most unique addition to the Ghostbusters universe is the team’s secretary Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth’s performance is a highlight, reversing the ditsy female secretary stereotype by playing Kevin as a vacuous piece of boy toy eye candy.

Kevin is just one example of the new film’s sense of self-awareness. On multiple occasions, the characters reference internet comments that are presumably taken from actual fan backlash. It’s a knowing wink at their predicament, but too often, Feig and company come across like they are trying too hard.

In many ways, the best film to compare with “Ghostbusters” is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the most baggage-laden film of 2015. “Force Awakens” was well received but also criticized for recycling too many elements of its original source material. Yet where “Force Awakens” integrated original characters into meaningful roles, appearances by the likes of Aykroyd and Murray in the new “Ghostbusters” are little more than cameos.

Ultimately, “Ghostbusters” supports the argument that Hollywood would rather recycle a known product for a guaranteed buck than take any real chances. And that’s too bad because the people involved are capable of better. Maybe if the sequel foreshadowed in a scene after the final credits comes to pass, we’ll still get to see their potential.

“Ghostbusters” is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor; running time: 116 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.

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