After one of the most contentious lead-ups ever faced by a summer movie, "Ghostbusters" has finally arrived. The bad news: This reboot, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, isn't the greatest comedy ever made. (But let's be honest, the original wasn't either.) The good news: neither is it a black hole generated to eradicate all memories of the 1984 film and your blissful childhood.
Set in an alternative universe where New York City has never been assaulted by a mass hysteria-inducing paranormal event, "Ghostbusters" follows a foursome of believers determined to prove that ghosts are real. After a spooky and gooey encounter with the poltergeist of a murderous heiress, former friends and sharp scientists Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Wiig) team with live-wire engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) and MTA worker/NYC history buff Patty Tolan (Jones). But when strange devices begin to spark volatile paranormal activity across Manhattan, the newly minted Ghostbusters must strap on their proton packs to defend the world against an apocalyptic threat.
Squint and you'll see the vague outline of the original movie, but there are plenty of details that make the reboot fresh and fun. The script from Katie Dippold and director Paul Feig starts off strong with a sequence that folds in loony humor (like a tour guide fawning over a historical site's "face bidet and Irish deterrent fence") and a creepy but cartoonish encounter spiked with spirited silliness. Like the original, "Ghostbusters" loops in a real love for New York by relishing in locations, including a brief stop in that iconic firehouse. And the jokes, slapstick, goofs and visual gags come so fast and furious that the few that don't land are soon forgotten.
Wiig and McCarthy leave their lovable mugging up to others and instead shoulder the film's emotional storytelling while igniting a compelling buddy-comedy chemistry. Leslie Jones brings her signature side-eye and a sharp wit to the team's NYC expert. But it's McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth who run away with this movie.
After suffering through miscasting in the bland cyber-thriller "Blackhat" and the waste of his talents that was "The Huntsman: Winter's War," it's absolutely exhilarating to see the "Thor" star get to dig into comedy, where he truly shines. As Kevin, this bespectacled receptionist is on a surface level this universe's Janine. But instead of a sassy secretary who fawns over the boss, the script is flipped, making Kevin a hunky but dumb bit of eye candy for Wiig's swooning scientist to drool over. Although slyly subversive, this gag could have gone skeevy were it not for Hemsworth's puppy-dog excitement and exquisitely executed obliviousness. Whether he's innocently spitting in his bosses' coffee, weighing his preposterous headshot options or leading a ludicrous dance number, Hemsworth is game and hilarious. But this is McKinnon's breakout.
The "Saturday Night Live" veteran whose sketches often go viral delivers an outrageous, alluring and hysterical turn as wild-haired wild card Holtzmann. McKinnon mixes one-part Egon earnest nerd-thusiasm with two-parts Ian Malcolm (from "Jurassic Park") sex appeal, and adds her own generous slathering of special sauce for a deliciously deranged character who feels preposterous and perfect all at once. McKinnon is not the new Bill Murray or Harold Ramis. She's Jeff Goldblum, oozing a playful and intoxicating sexuality through every line, whether she's challenging her teammates, mocking the mayor or waxing poetic about the glory of Pringles. And when she's not slaying with zings, she's winning laughs with a potent bravado that fuels wig-wearing, gun-licking, and the film's most satisfying action scene.
Regrettably, action is not Feig's strong suit. When things are silly, he's a master of playing stunts for laughs, but when it comes to moments that should be purely riveting, there's something missing. That lack of spark makes the final act feel a bit bloated and indulgent. And indulgence is a sin this comedy commits again and again. Like his frequent collaborator Judd Apatow, Feig has never been great at "killing his darlings," and often turns in final cuts that are just a tad too long. Piling on character moments and jokes tips the comedy scale from rapid-fire to overstuffed. And as much as I hate to say it, the fan service doesn't help.
Paying predictable homage to the original film, "Ghostbusters" is studded with allusive music, imagery and cameos. Some are charming (the introduction of the logo), others are not (Slimer + Girl Slimer = WTF). But most of them are so blatant that the story screeches to a full stop so the audience can cheer a returning cast member or gasp over an old catchphrase. Some level of fan service is expected, even demanded, by audiences, but these elements being so nakedly wedged in, makes a strong argument against the fan pandering.
These qualms aside, this is a win for reboots, delivering an adventure that is very funny and satisfyingly thrilling. With humor that ranges from daffy to mildly bawdy, and action scenes boasting scares and colorful ghosts, there's absolutely tons of fun for the whole family to be found in "Ghostbusters."
"Ghostbusters" opens Friday nationwide.