Good news, all you poisonous male Ghostbusters fans who accused the 2016 reboot of ruining your childhood. You have your wish in the form of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which is simply brimming with fanservice, in-jokes, and callbacks, to the point where there’s hardly any movie left. Congratulations! You’re getting exactly what you asked for, and it sucks. It sucks ectoplasm. Are you happy now?
It doesn’t start out so bad, to be fair. Egon Spengler’s estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) receives the news of his death around the same time that her family is evicted from their apartment in the big city. Since he left her his run-down farmhouse in rural Oklahoma, she moves there with her 15-year-old son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and 12-year-old daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and tries to make a new start. It’s science nerd Phoebe who finds the ghost trap hidden under the floorboards and the secret bunker in the basement where Egon had been detailing the area’s paranormal activity. Her science teacher (Paul Rudd) has to fill her and her brother in on who their grandfather used to be in the 1980s.
Director/co-writer Jason Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the original movies. Reitman fils is too good not to come up with some funny lines as the family tries to put down roots in a place where there’s no cell service. Grace — hey, she’s a Grapevine native — already has a formidable track record (Gifted, I, Tonya, Captain Marvel), and she disappears into the role of a bespectacled geek who doesn’t panic when she first sees a ghost, saying “Overstimulation keeps me calm.” She has a funny character, as does Rudd, who can’t match the sheer power of Bill Murray’s sarcasm but contributes mightily as a teacher who has given up and spends classes showing violent slasher flicks to his middle-school students.
That setup, though. It’s exactly the same as the original movie’s. The kids have to repeat the original Ghostbusters’ feat of keeping the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper from bringing Gozer the Gozerian (Emma Portner) back to life and destroying the Earth. They had 36 years to think of a new storyline, and they just play back the old one? I’m insulted. The surviving Ghostbusters come to the Sooner State to lend a hand, which doesn’t give the film any originality. This is the work of a filmmaker who’s so afraid of the fans that he can’t move. That’s why the last third of the film is an untrammeled disaster.
The younger Reitman is the wrong filmmaker, anyway. He’s best when he finds humor in ordinary modern life in Up in the Air and Tully. This project needed someone who could mix humor with supernatural horror, and Reitman has never been that guy. It’s a tall order asking anyone to match the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the greatest comic movie monster in history, but all he can think to do is set thousands of little versions of the marshmallow man loose. The script clanks heavily trying to integrate Callie’s abandonment issues with the main plot, and the filmmakers don’t have the stomach for gross-out humor that made the original Ghostbusters so distinctive. If you want to talk about that movie’s legacy, this cynical cash grab is a bigger stain on it than that female remake from 2016. At least that indifferent comedy was trying something new. This craven nostalgia piece is only fit for the storage unit.
Starring Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard. Directed by Jason Reitman. Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman. Rated PG-13.