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Ghostbusters (2016)

Comedy Rated PG-13

It’s somewhat ironic that the funniest thing about Ghostbusters — the “controversial,” all-female remake of the 1984 original — is a man.

Each of the headlining women — Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones — has her moment, but it’s Chris Hemsworth, as the ghostbusting team’s hunky, dimwitted receptionist Kevin, who gets the biggest laughs. I’ve always found him refreshingly funny as Thor in the Marvel movies, but here he shows even more of a gift for both physical and verbal comedy. Kevin instinctively covers his eyes whenever he hears an annoying sound, for instance, and his bit about his dog’s name (which I won’t spoil here) is priceless.

Those moments have the nonsensical, improvisational feel of Bridesmaids, the previous collaboration of Ghostbusters director Paul Feig and stars McCarthy and Wiig. It’s amusing, this time around, to watch Wiig and McCarthy essentially play the straight women to Hemsworth’s antics (they’re both excellent at it).

McKinnon may be pushing a bit hard, but at least she lends the movie the promise of unpredictability.

Unfortunately, such agile goofiness is in short supply overall. Few scenes here feel free-form, because Ghostbusters mostly treats its predecessor like a burden to be carried or an aging relative to be reluctantly visited. There are sad cameos by many of the original cast members, awkward gestures to artifacts from the first film (including the Ghostbusters logo) and a limp variation on Ray Parker Jr.’s exquisitely 1980s original theme song. All of this makes for a long list of chores that the actors must take care of, rather than being let loose to create comedy without restrictions.

Under these terms, McKinnon is the most successful. As Holtzmann, the unhinged inventor of the Ghostbusters’ dangerous gadgets, she hovers in the background of the scenes with a maniacal grin, bringing a goofy energy and an unexpected twist to even the most minor of lines. (When asked if eating Pringles is appropriate while ghost-hunting she responds, “You try saying no to these salty parabolas.”) McKinnon may be pushing a bit hard, but at least she lends the movie the promise of unpredictability.

You can’t say the same of the climax, even if you’ve never seen the original film. This Ghostbusters ends with yet another special effects-driven siege on a city, one that’s reminiscent of the Avengers movies only partly because Hemsworth’s Kevin is part of the action. By that point, though, even Kevin has worn out his welcome. I didn’t see Ghostbusters for the comic potential of Chris Hemsworth. I saw it because of the talent of its four leads. Here’s hoping they (and Feig) get a chance to do something a little less hog-tied in the future. Leave the middling, overblown, special effects-driven comedies to the uninspired men.