‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is more like half-life
More half-life than afterlife, this latest installment of—and wannabe defibrillator for—the moribund Ghostbusters IP leans heavy on the nostalgia and goes light on the laughs. Don’t expect the whip-smart nonsense or wise-guy snark of the original. Ghostbusters: Afterlife would rather be heart-swelling than rib-tickling. It’s kinda funny, sorta spooky, and absolutely sentimental, a supernatural action-comedy that’s painfully earnest and allergic to irreverence. But as a tribute to the late Harold Ramis, it’s almost impeccably touching. He’s the film’s alpha and omega, the spirit in the machine as well as onscreen, in a spectral apparition finale so photorealistic that it’s haunting. Egon Spengler fans, get ready to get verklempt.
Also returning are—spoiler alert—the original 1984 spook hunters Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), all in 11th-hour cameos doubling as victory laps while teeing up a new generation of replacements. And now, in the 21st century, who you gonna call? High-wattage superstars like Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, and Logan Kim. Who? Exactly. Does bustin’ make them feel good? I have no idea. I do know that they’re moderately charming, hard-working child stars, one of whom enjoys Teen Beat status as a cast member of that wannabe-’80s magpie megahit Stranger Things.
The adults in the room are Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd, immensely talented but hardly outrageous actors who give the film both its domestic drama and its aw-shucks romantic levity. Coon plays Spengler’s estranged grown-up daughter, a broke-ass single mom who inherits Spengler’s estate after he dies mysteriously. Her inheritance? A dilapidated, debt-ridden property in rural Summerville, Oklahoma that locals call a dirt farm that doubles as an apocalyptic ranch festooned with quotes from Revelations 6:12.
GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Gil Kenan, Jason Reitman
Starring: Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson
Running time: 125 mins
Rudd is a small-town summer-school teacher who makes his students watch a VHS of Cujo while he goes back to studying irregular and unexplained seismic activity in a town that has no fault lines or fracking industry. Coon is bitter, Rudd is disarming, they meet cute and very small sparks fly. Their presence in the film is as innocuous plot-device pawns, since their town holds the secrets to an imminent reawakening of a certain demonic Sumerian god.
The real celebrities in Ghostbusters: Afterlife are the concept, the brand, the iconography. So all the totems of the original get fetishistic reveals: the proton packs, the ghost traps, the P.K.E. meters, and the dilapidated-but-supercharged modified 1959 Cadillac otherwise known as Ecto-1. This movie is a paean to props. And that’s the problem. Audiences loved Ghostbusters for the SNL alums, their very funny supporting cast, and the gaseous straight men they joyously puncture with rat-a-tat zingers. They made their gear hilarious because they were hilarious. That iconic no-smoking-but-for-ghosts sight gag is still brilliant, but it’s a logo. It can’t carry a film.
Ripping a page out of the Rise of Skywalker playbook, Ghostbusters: Afterlife essentially recycles and remixes the original’s storyline and methods. Fresh-faced youths talk in reverent tones about their forefathers, beloved characters who show up in button-pushing last-hurrah encores. And then they face the exactly-the-same-but-different-context mortal threat, in this case you-guessed-it villains Gozer the Gozerian along with predictable assists from Vinz Clortho the Keymaster and Zuul the Gatekeeper. And don’t forget the goddamned Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, goddamn it! The Satanic sailor pops up in mini-multitudes, like a gelatin-foam gremlin, to wreak harmless but adorable havoc. Is he a threat? Only to fresh ideas.