REVIEW: Is 'Ghostbusters' family-friendly? (And just HOW scared will kids be?)

by Michael Foust, Guest Reviewer |

CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – Fifty years ago, few would have thought of making a comedy about ghosts. The two ideas seemed, well, incongruous.

Yet that's what Hollywood gave us in the popular 1984 Ghostbusters film, and that's what we have in the 2016 version of the movie, which hits theaters this weekend, accompanied with toys you can buy at Walmart and partnerships with Papa John's, Hostess and Dave & Buster's.

That means it's just got to be kid-friendly, right? Umm, no.

The new Ghostbusters (PG-13) unites four queens of comedy -- Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones – as they seek to boot ghosts out of New York City and save the population literally from getting either killed or possessed by supernatural beings. With a guest appearance by Bill Murray of the original film and an executive producer tag given to Dan Aykroyd (also in the original), this one certainly will attract parents who grew up watching the '84 version. But should they take their children? Let's take a look.

The Good

Ghostbusters does indeed have plenty of funny moments, and the four ladies are so different in their humor that each moviegoer likely will be laughing at something. It is a good ensemble. Chris Hemsworth (Avengers), who plays the ladies' clueless receptionist, also is hilarious.

Even though Ghostbusters does have inappropriate humor (see below), it also includes skits that are so clean they could be inserted in a church play. And get this: They're the funniest parts of the film! If only Hollywood would give us more of that.

The film continues the trend of female heroes in major movies, which got its recent start in The Hunger Games series and continued in such films as The Divergent franchise and in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There's been plenty of debate about this movement, but here's one thing that I – the father of an impressionable daughter – like about it: These heroines, for the most part, have not been sexualized (as women in other films are). That's good.

The plot is also enjoyable, although the ending is somewhat goofy. Maybe that's a given in a ghost-themed comedy.

The Bad

From a parent's perspective, there's plenty not to like. For starters, Ghostbusters' scary moments truly are quite scary. These aren't Casper the Friendly Ghost lookalikes. These are ugly, evil-looking beings who look like they came straight from Hell.

The film begins with a haunted house scene that is absent any humor, and even though some of the "ghostbusting" does include jokes that take some of the fright out of the scenes, many if not most children would have trouble sleeping after watching it.

Three of the four women are current members or veterans of Saturday Night Live, which is quite appropriate being that SNL generally has some clean humor and plenty of "dirty" humor. Ghostbusters has several jokes about sex, a decent amount of scatological humor, and more than 30 coarse words. In one unforgettable scene, a man tells the women to "su—it" and then displays his middle finger to them for several seconds, contorting it for effect.

Lessons for Families

Ghostbusters includes subtle lessons about teamwork, sacrifice, friendship and bullying, but it's difficult to get out of this movie without having a family discussion about, well, ghosts. Sure, it is a comedy, but the underlying premise is that ghosts do exist. Wiig's character (Erin Gilbert) even tells her friends about how, when she was 8, the spirit from the deceased woman next door stood at the foot of her bed for months and months – so much so that she had to get counseling. It is a serious moment in the film, and kids and teens are certainly going to have questions.

The Bible is clear on this issue: Our world is filled with angels and demons, but not ghosts. The difference? Ghosts, as defined by Ghostbusters, are the spirits of people who have died. (In the film, we even watch one person die and his ghost take residence in someone who is alive.) Hebrews 9:27 tells us that it "is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment." In other words, there is no in between. We die, and we are then judged by God.

But there are angels and demons in the world – beings that were not formerly humans. I tell my young kids that God and the angels protect them at night while they are asleep. Know what? It comforts them every time. And the demons? Sure, they're evil, but God is more powerful.

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

Despite all of the cute toys at the local store, I can't call Ghostbusters family-friendly – at least not for young children. My 8-year-old son begged me to take him to this one. I'm glad I didn't.

Entertainment rating: 3 Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Ghostbusters is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor.

Language: Nearly 40 words: God's name abused (18), Jesus' name abused (1), he—(9), da—(2), bi—h (1), a—(6), s—t (1).

Violence: Some slapping and hitting, but a lot of paranormal violence – ghosts throw people against walls and ceilings. The ghostbusters use their lasers to capture the ghosts.

Sexuality: No nudity, but several instances of crude jokes and double entendre. One of the ghostbusters tells Kevin to "pull it out" – technically referencing drawings on his computer but one or two of the other women smile. There's a joke about virginity. The word "boobs" is said, referencing a drawing of a female ghost; everyone thinks it's funny. There's also some dancing between Erin and Kevin, bordering on provocative.

Michael Foust has covered the film industry for more than a decade and is the father of four small children. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelFoust