For all the online backlash it inspired, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot turns out to be neither the apocalypse MRAs and Gamergaters predicted, nor the feminist revolution people who don’t live in their parents’ basement had hoped for. Instead, it ends up being exactly what it was always billed as: a pretty decent summer comedy.
Is it perfect? No. Is it grounded enough in reality to sell some of its more outlandish moments? Oh, absolutely not. But is it funny? Fuck yeah. Feig’s Ghostbusters brings more than enough solid guffaws to make up for its flaws, and like the Ivan Reitman original, the vast majority of the laughs come not from the script, but from the actors. This is because Feig’s greatest strength as a director is one he shares with Reitman: he trusts his actors enough to let them improvise.
As such, the film’s funniest moment comes during one of the more obvious instances of said improv. Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) asks during a job interview, “Can I bring my cat to work?” When Abby (Melissa McCarthy) responds she’s allergic to cats, Kevin clarifies. It’s not a cat, but a dog named “Mike Hat”—Michael Hat, actually, he says, but he calls him Mike for short.
If that sounds impossibly silly, it is, but silliness is the film’s saving grace. Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon is the silliness MVP as gadgeteer Jillian Holtzmann, with Hemsworth coming in a close second as the gang’s hot-dumb-guy secretary, but the rest of the cast is equally vital to the film’s success.
Kristen Wiig (who previously collaborated with Feig in 2011’s Bridesmaids just before leaving SNL) is the closest thing Ghostbusters has to a straight man. She plays particle physicist Erin Gilbert, who seems to exist primarily to be slimed by every ghost the team encounters. Her measured practicality provides a worthy foil for McKinnon’s Jon Hamm–level charm and—pardon the pun—hamminess.
Like Wiig and McCarthy, Jones delivers, but it feels like she too took a step back to let McKinnon shine.
McCarthy brings her signature enthusiasm to paranormal researcher Abby Yates, but she is more grounded than usual. Absent the bubbliness of her flagship Gilmore Girls character or the loud impropriety of her part in Bridesmaids, McCarthy’s performance is reliable—the drummer in the metaphorical band of which McKinnon is lead singer.
Leslie Jones, another SNL alum, is the everywoman as Patty Tolan, an MTA worker who doesn’t know much about paranormal activity or particle physics, but is intrigued nonetheless and comes aboard the team. Like Wiig and McCarthy, Jones delivers, but it feels like she too took a step back to let McKinnon shine.
Fortunately, Ghostbusters’ cast is a big enough asset to make up for its biggest flaw: it has no stakes. The film is populated with moments of mounting tension that never pay off, and while we are repeatedly told that ghosts are dangerous killers, there is only one actual kill, and that guy’s kind of a jerk anyway. The rest of the time, the ghosts are about as frightening as a Nickelodeon game show host—there’s a good chance they’ll dump green slime all over you, but that’s about it.
Further, Ghostbusters breaks the few rules it does set up for itself, and every battle feels mostly effortless—especially when Holtzmann disappears off-screen, only to return minutes later with new ghost-catching technology seemingly conjured out of thin air. Holtzmann’s tech, like everything else in the film, comes far too easily to the team, but while I would have liked to see the Ghostbusters earn some of their victories, when McKinnon smirks at the camera and licks her handheld proton gun Miley Cyrus–style before firing, it’s hard for my criticisms to outweigh my delight. FL