The new Ghostbusters is mostly a tragic underutilizing of four of this country's funniest women — Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon as the evil-ectoplasm battlers of the title, fighting to save a New York that is played primarily by Boston -- combined with what felt like the world's longest laser-tag game. Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy), has done more than any other filmmaker to expose the idiocy of an industry that still insists that women cannot carry big-studio-financed comedies. But his Ghostbusters, which he co-wrote with Katie Dippold (the scripter of The Heat), is too risk-averse, despite its nominally radical gender-switching premise.
Ghostbusters 2.0 suffers from the anxiety of influence -- or, more specifically, from the fear of not wanting to alienate the fans (Gen Xers and others) of 1.0. It never strays far from the anodyne, generic humor that pervades the 1984 original, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who starred with Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson. All of the principal cast (except for Ramis, who died in 2014, and to whom the film is dedicated) pop up in cameos, as do three secondary actors (two made of flesh and bone, the other from sugar and gelatin) -- cloying appearances that have become de rigueur in remakes but that here especially highlight the timidity of Feig's project.
There is an easy camaraderie and chemistry among the central quartet, a harmony that continues when Chris Hemsworth, charmingly stupid, enters as the squad's receptionist. Yet the main performers rarely get to display their individual idiosyncratic strengths. It's particularly dispiriting to hear McCarthy, one of the most floridly gifted riffers in comedy, utter frat-brah catchphrases like "Let's do this."