The original 1984 Ghostbusters shouldn't have worked. Creating a big special effects comedy showcasing two SNL graduates and two unknowns was an iffy notion. Dan Aykroyd, who wrote the original story as a vehicle for him and John Belushi, teamed with Harold Ramis to craft the screenplay, which would star Bill Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Ernie Hudson. Adjustments were made to give more screen time to Murray, resulting in Hudson's role getting pared down.
After the film became a smash, the studio convinced Aykroyd and Ramis to write a sequel. While 1989's Ghostbusters II had some fine moments, the lumpy film was a disappointment. Over the years, Aykroyd lobbied hard for another Ghostbusters movie, with little support from Murray.
Cut to the present. Ghostbusters opens this week, after a year or two of online tantrums from some troglodytes disturbed by the decision to make the new Ghostbusters female. As of this writing, reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website are 76 percent positive, with star ratings averaging 6.5 out of 10. Sounds about right.
The 2016 Ghostbusters is entertaining and funny. It never reaches the heights of the original, which is common with reboots. Part of the problem is the screenplay. The original film made a point of showing the massive impact an invasion of ghosts would have on NYC. Director Paul Feig and Katie Dippold's screenplay never captures that insane grandeur. Even the climactic battle just looks like a fireworks display in the long distance shots favored by Feig. Thankfully, when the Ghostbusters look out at the city in the film's closing images, what they see feels suitably sweeping and stirring.
Feig and Dippold's script tries to make sense out of the story, something Aykroyd and Ramis barely bothered to do in 1984. I appreciate Feig and Dippold's attempts, even if they tend to over-explain, especially in the early part of the movie.
The casting is solid, with the women operating as a solid team. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) are estranged friends who once wrote a book together about ghosts. Erin loses tenure at Columbia University after the long-suppressed book resurfaces, but her anger at Abby fades once the spooks appear. Wiig and McCarthy get their gears stuck in subdued mode for too much of the film. I kept waiting for one of them to exhibit the deadpan wise-ass behavior that Bill Murray did so well in the original, but neither of them steps up to the challenge.
Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) is the engineer that designs the Ghostbusters' containment devices and weapons. McKinnon is a hoot as the Egon of the group, flashing wild-eyed delight during confrontations or moments of danger. She's the funniest member of the team. As transplanted transit worker Patty Tolan, Leslie Jones uses her character wealth of information about New York buildings and their histories to distract me enough from wondering why, in both the original and the reboot, the black cast members play blue-collar types that join the team midway through the proceedings.
Chris Hemsworth gets some laughs as Kevin, a strikingly dense receptionist whose dreamy looks and gym-sculpted body make Erin melt.
The movie includes cameo appearances by all the primary cast members of the original except the late Harold Ramis, who is honored with a bust on display at the college, and Rick Moranis, who turned down the invitation because he thought it was senseless. Don't get your hopes up over the cameos — nothing special happens in any of them.
The 2016 Ghostbusters is an entertaining feature that will likely make an enormous amount of money. I half-heartedly recommend it, while strongly encouraging you to check out the original. Watch it and you'll understand why.
So there you go.