It's funny how much controversy can surround such a listless, mediocre product. I will dispense with it quickly for posterity's sake: upon announcement of an all-female Ghostbusting cast, the Internet swirled with misogyny and butthurt from a fervent contingency of male Ghostbusters fans who looked on this sea change as a direct assault on masculinity and their precious "childhoods." Never mind that the director was still a man, Paul Feig, or that the women chosen to play those parts had garnered success with a massive, gender-nonspecific audience. It was the principal, man.

Like most Hollywood films based on existing properties, the actual result is far less earth-shattering than the media storm that tends to envelop them. Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (yes, that is the official title; don't email me) proceeds exactly the way you'd expect a too-big-to-fail, overpriced special effects extravaganza, except with bits of weirdness and comic specificity from the quartet of women who ginned up all the hullabaloo in the first place. In case you live under a rock, those women are Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, the latter three of whom are veterans of Saturday Night Live. That improvisatory sensibility cultivated by their experience on the late-night sketch show, along with McCarthy's (and Wiig's) rise from the Groundlings school of improv, give the by-the-numbers script jolts of the sort of comic savagery we've come to expect from these people, particularly when they team up with Feig. 

The plot, if you care: an evil ghost begins to stalk New York, so physicists Erin and Abby (Wiig and McCarthy) have to return to their previous callings as parapsychologists to stop the ghost, along with the help of kooky engineer Jillian (McKinnon) and MTA employee, Patty (Jones). They set up shop above a janky Chinese restaurant and enlist the help of himbo Chris Hemsworth to be their secretary. Meanwhile, it turns out that mad scientist and misanthrope Rowan North (Neil Casey) is planting devices around the city that are summoning the ghosts, so the team has to work together to prevent the angry little guy from bringing about the apocalypse.

Why couldn't this movie have been better? You look at it and there is the germ of possibility in the form of McKinnon's extreme commitment to her role: she doesn't get a lot to say—most of the plot-talk is left to Wiig and McCarthy—but every time she opens her mouth or is even merely onscreen, she's doing something bizarre, uncomfortable and absolutely hilarious. If Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold were given free rein to populate the film entirely with eccentrics like Jillian, then they may have actually had a film there. Jones, racist-adjacent marketing notwithstanding, is actually far more restrained than we've come to expect, which goes a long way in convincing us that she's the only one with some sense in the operation. McCarthy's typically sharp edges have been rounded for the sake of the mainstream and the most interesting thing Wiig is given to do is to pine away for Hemsworth's exceedingly stupid secretary, for whom the script finds myriad ways to express this intellectual dearth. These women are mere types and are refused the opportunity to expand into their roles beyond the bare minimum required by the plot. Only McKinnon gives the suggestion of a deeper inner life, as if when she is not busting ghosts she's doing even more unusual and insane things that a braver film would bother to explore.

I had high hopes for Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. I have no experience with the prior films, so the franchise is hardly sacrosanct for me, and I love the other work of pretty much everyone involved in this production. But the money machine must be fed and so their wings have been systematically pinned down. This is never more starkly realized than during the yawn-inducing climax, which falls into rank with the rest of the miasma of meaningless CGI energy explosions of the past ten years. And the saddest part is that the whining legions of protestors of this movie will feel proven right because of its mediocrity. They're still wrong, of course, but they will feel right, and that is a crime.

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