Sliding into theaters on a river of slime, the new, cheerfully silly Ghostbusters is that rarest of big-studio offerings: a movie that is a lot of enjoyable, disposable fun.
Whatever else you can say about the new Ghostbusters, it’s a lot like the old Ghostbusters, except that it stars four funny women instead of four funny men. In other words, it doesn’t have a lot of XY chromosomes and basso profundo voices, although its token hottie, played by a funny Chris Hemsworth, pulls his weight on both those counts. Otherwise, the redo is pretty much what you might expect from Paul Feig, one of the best things to happen to American big-screen comedy since Harold Ramis.
No one performance dominates the new Ghostbusters, although Kate McKinnon’s magnificent, eccentric turn comes close. She plays Holtzmann, the in-house mad hatter who whips up the ghost-busting hardware with a crazy leer. McKinnon makes for a sublime nerd goddess and embodies the new Ghostbusters at its best: Girls rule, women are funny, get over it.
The redo follows much of the original’s shambling arc and even revs up with a haunted-house boo, except that this time the scares happen in a mansion, not a library. After the usual narrative table setting, Holtzmann and her partner in kook-science, Abby (Melissa McCarthy), join forces first with another scientist, Erin (Kristen Wiig), and then a transit worker, Patty (Leslie Jones). Voilà, the new Ghostbusters are in business, complete with a vintage Cadillac, some funky digs and a cute secretary, Kevin (Hemsworth). Ghosts and mayhem ensue along with turns from the likes of Cecily Strong, Andy Garcia and Matt Walsh.
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It’s at once satisfyingly familiar and satisfyingly different, like a new production of Macbeth or a Christopher Nolan rethink of Batman. That the movie stars four women is a kind of gimmick, of course, but it’s one that the filmmakers and the excellent cast deepen with comedy chemistry and emotionally fleshed-out performances, particularly from McCarthy and Wiig, who play old-friends-turned-sort-of foes who need to work some stuff out.
Part of what makes Ghostbusters enjoyable is that it allows women to be as simply and uncomplicatedly funny as men. In the end, these are Ghostbusters, not ghostbusting suffragists, even if there’s plenty of feminism on screen and off. When these Ghostbusters are labeled frauds — or crack jokes about ugly online comments or take on a fanboy from hell — it feels as if Feig and his team are blowing gleeful raspberries at the project’s sexist attackers.
By helping to redefine who gets to be funny in movies, Feig becomes a thoughtful successor to Ramis, who made a series of comedies about what it means to be a man (Groundhog Day, Multiplicity). Now, if we could just get women and men to be funny together, that would be revolutionary.
Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor. 1:56. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill. 2D only: Georgetown, Winchester.