The new Ghostbusters (2016; dir. Paul Feig) commits the same error as many rebooted cinema franchises. It pays too much honor to the original. It’s too much homage and not enough reinvention, reconceptualization. Ghostbusters uses the same theme song as the earlier Ghostbusters films. In loose terms the plot is similar to that of the first Ghostbuster film. Instead of a team of four men, one of whom is black, we have a team of four women, one of whom is black. The film begins with an extended exposition in which ghosts start to appear and our characters gradually come together to combat them. Once again a herd of ghosts threatens New York City. The actresses who portray the four main characters are excellent comedians: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones. They don’t play to their individual strengths. Even Kate McKinnon doesn’t have enough to do. Her wackiness is all scripted, or at least seems that way. Jones plays a bit too much to stereotype, although the film makes her smart and witty.
It’s no surprise that the film makes a point of bringing in actors from the earlier Ghostbusters movies for brief cameos: Bill Murray as a debunker, Dan Aykroyd as a taxicab driver; Annie Potts as a hotel clerk, Ernie Hudson as a funeral home director, Sigourney Weaver as an inspector for the city. None of these makes an extended appearance, but the point is made. We even see the ectoplasmic green blob Slimer, and the giant marshmallow man, or a version of him.
The film is too sluggish, the ghosts are too green, the weapons are too familiar (including their crossed streams), and it isn’t as wacky or as novel as the first Ghostbusters. It has moments of humor, but at the same time much of it seems flat and forced. That’s too bad. With such a cast, it could’ve been better.
Early portions of the film offer a nasty but amusing satirical portrayal of higher education—Wiig plays a physics professor on the tenure track who is fired when her co-authorship of a book on ghosts is uncovered.