April 20, 2019


The Graces of Wraith

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


“Ghostbusters,” the third film in the franchise originated by Messrs. Aykroyd, Ramis and Reitman in 1984, reboots the saga of paranormal booga booga with four funny ladies starring in what is essentially a séance gone wild. Asserting that anything the male Ghostbusters could do, they can do wackier, it is a movie of moments and ideas, most of them witty, some of them hilarious. Unfortunately, the thinnest of refurbished plots is unable to meld the cerebral with the onslaught of special effects. It gets a bit out of hand.


Still, when isolated from the obligatory Sturm und Drang, the sketch comedy crafted by the endearingly enthusiastic Ghostbusters wins our affection. Each possesses her own quirk balanced by some impressively prodigious skill. But there’s old baggage to be sorted between Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert and Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates before a full synergy of the gang’s talents can be realized.


You see, Drs. Gilbert and Yates co-authored a book on the occult a while back, and the lackluster reception caused Erin to separate herself from the project and take a so-called legitimate job as a prof at Columbia. She’s close to gaining tenure. But lo and behold, recently republished by Abby and put on Amazon for sale, the volume is arousing interest.


Naturally, as happens in movies, the sudden notoriety isn’t lost on Erin’s starchy department head. Desperate to protect her reputation in the hallowed halls of academia, she petitions her former partner, still pursuing paranormal research at a technical college, to cease publication of their book. Deeming Erin a prissy sell-out, Abby will only quash the tome if Erin agrees to help out in an investigation she is conducting with her new partner, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann. Never mind that assenting to Abby’s entreaty will only expand her notoriety.


Again, such oxymoronic contracts are the stuff of farce, and Katie Dippold, who wrote the screenplay with director Paul Feig, apparently thought it the most expedient way to form the story’s title team. They go into business as The Department of the Metaphysical Examination, renting the only space they can afford, above a Chinese restaurant. Soon rounding out and grounding the group with her comic asides and knowledge of N.Y. is Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker whose life-changing confrontation with a ghost prompts her to join the fight.


It’s not until they’re fully embroiled in their pursuits and the swirling controversy that attends it that the media dub them the Ghostbusters. By then it’s full speed ahead and damn the ghost puke, liberally spewed here. Now, there are more things in Heaven and Earth and in convoluted storylines than can be explained by mortal film critic. But suffice it to note that, in addition to all manner of apparition the women encounter and do noble battle with, there is an equally sinister force at work, fanatical in its own creepy ambition and hell-bent on confounding their efforts.


Between the hellzapoppin, spectral encounters, expect an endless stream of jibber-jabber about proton containment lasers and other such fictional gizmos that may remind you of the made-up names you assigned pretend apparatus back in your make–believe days. A chair was your rocket ship, a broom your magic super-accelerator, etc. It is in that imaginary world, replete with its own mantra, rules and protocols, where the film is best enjoyed. You know…“bang, bang, zoom … gotcha!”


But while a sizable portion of the joy is also the sheer outlandishness of it all, it’s the whimsical likeability factor of the main characters that ultimately puts it across. Miss McCarthy, who has come into her own as a true original, is superb as the pushy entrepreneur of all gambles and ventures. Here, her Abby Yates adds yet another fold to the self-styled impresario of looniness who takes it for granted that she knows best, and that everyone else will fall in line.


Equally impressive in the second banana role, Kristen Wiig’s Dr. Erin Gilbert is the winsome, often cautious one, her full range of facial expressions engaging at every turn. In fact, all three of the film’s brainiacs emote and mug admirably. And while each is brilliant, Kate McKinnon’s Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, the engineer extraordinaire with an invention for each new challenge, adds a touch of the mad scientist.


It’s all pretty insane. But scratch not too deep and you’ll find the method to director Feig and his estimable cast’s madness, emblemized by Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the dumb, dirty-blonde receptionist the ladies hire. The symbolic reverse is satiric emphasis of the film’s decidedly feminist slant. The message sprinkled throughout the boisterous diversion is that these are smart, industrious women every bit as capable as men to save the world and have fun doing it. Potential viewers moved by that spirit will want to inhabit a theater currently haunted by “Ghostbusters.”

“Ghostbusters,” rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Paul Feig and stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon. Running time: 116 minutes


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