Who ya gonna recall?

Is this another <i>Saturday Night Live</i> bit?

Is this another Saturday Night Live bit?

Rated 4.0

It seems every third movie these days is either a remake or a reboot. Ghostbusters is both, better at being the former than the latter. It effectively reshapes the material to the talent on hand, but it’s freighted with references and hat-tips to the 1984 original. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts all make cameo appearances (only Rick Moranis took a pass); even original director and costar Harold Ramis, who died in 2014, is paid sweet tribute. It’s an open question if this is just a one-off success, or if it can sustain the franchise the producers have in mind.

The first act assembles the team. We meet Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a university lecturer who is appalled to learn that an impulsive book from her youth is back in print. The book, co-written with her estranged pal Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), loudly proclaimed the existence of ghosts, and Erin goes to Abby to beg her to withdraw the book before she gets fired as a crackpot.

Abby—already an academic outcast, along with her lab mate Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a slightly spacey anti-ghost weapons developer—agrees, but it’s too late. Erin is found out and dismissed, and she has no choice but to join Abby and Jillian—especially after a mid-Manhattan haunted mansion rekindles her paranormal obsession.

The fourth teammate is Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a transit worker whose own encounter with the ghost that escaped from that mansion prompts her to join the newly formed “Conductors of the Metaphysical Examination.” Finally, there’s the hunky receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth, showing hilarious and unsuspected comic chops), a male bimbo who can’t handle the company name, so he answers the phone, “Ghostbusters.”

From there our heroines embark on a crusade to battle a supernatural infestation that increasingly plagues the city. The script by Katie Dippold and director Paul Feig divides itself pretty evenly between scares and laughs; only in the climax do the CGI ectoplasms threaten to get out of hand and upstage the stars.

The original movie’s fans are a possessive bunch, and they’ve railed sight-unseen at the effrontery of a remake—with women, no less. They should get off their high horses. Only a hopeless sexist could object to McCarthy and Wiig tagging in. As for the others, Jones (with more to do than the first movie gave Ernie Hudson) shines, while McKinnon, in a star-making turn, flat out steals the picture, giving every word she says an unexpected comic twist.

Besides, the plain truth is (with all due respect) the first Ghostbusters was popular beyond its merits. (The 1989 sequel was, for once, a distinct improvement.) This new one is every bit as funny, and as spooky, with a more engaging and amusing story. Whether it can shake off the homages and in-jokes and find its own way is the question now.