Going into the theater to see a press screening of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, I had the sudden, very-late-in-the-game realization that I have never actually seen the original beloved 1984 comedy classic. Heck, I was even there at the time, and was the ripe age for falling under its ghostly spell! All my classmates seemed to have the Ghostbusters logo t-shirt, and the theme song was certainly inescapable. I simply lost interest after all the fuss.
Now all these years later, after a much-maligned (by fanboys, at least) attempt at a reboot with ghost-busting women (a movie that I actually vaguely enjoyed), we have a more earnest, reverent attempt at jump-starting some life into the franchise.
The problem is, it isn’t much fun.
A down on their luck family–mom Callie (Carrie Coon), with teen Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and tween Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) in tow–move to small-town Oklahoma to a ramshackle house previously occupied by the late Dirt Farmer. The Dirt Farmer (as he was known by locals), was none other than Egon Spengler (not really played by Harold Ramis, who has been dead himself since 2014). Callie is Egon’s very estranged, bitter daughter. He abandoned her as a child (I suppose she was raised by an invisible mother) and she apparently has had a raging fury since, which continues through the majority of the film as though that is her sole outlet for emotional release. OK.
Anyway, the kids are good, and the smarty-pants of the family, refreshingly, is Phoebe, who is a science geek that of course wears glasses like Egon, and strangely dresses like a 40-year-old from 1984. She has a hard time making friends, except that she instantly makes a friend at school in the nerdy self-named Podcast (Logan Kim) who… makes podcasts. Har har? Meanwhile, Trevor is given the traditional “girl role” and spends most of the movie being lovestruck so that we can have another cool female (Celeste O’Connor) in the kid squad and they can play backup to the 12-year-olds that pretty much safe the day.
But I jump ahead. Let me just point out that the stars of the show are the kids, and the film is rated PG-13. Chew on that for a minute.
Egon, in his late life, was actually working obsessively on capturing an evil spirit from a local abandoned mountain mine. He had his whole farm set up, and a secret ghostbusting lair of all his 80s tools. But the spirit got the best of him. But Phoebe is smart, finds all the equipment, and of course can figure out and fix things with ease. This comes in handy when the kids accidentally let out one of the demons from a ghost trap they find. Ooops. Now there is an excellent chance that the mountain mine will release much much worse into the town… or the world? Throw in a cute dorky science teacher (cute, dorky Paul Rudd) to ‘splain the history of the 1984 Ghostbusters who saved Manhattan, and you pretty much have the set up for a big showdown with the ultimate demon/god/ghost (???) that emerges from the Sumerian (?????) depths of Oklahoma.
In other words, as my Ghostbusting pal pointed out, this is strangely an almost exact retread of the original film as far as plot. Easter eggs apparently abound, causing fans to knowingly nod throughout the film. Newbies like me are given enough-ish explanation as to the what and how of it (I mean, for such a silly premise, that is). There’s even a fat, glowy, squishy ghost that leaves slime on everything he mouths… but this time he is called… Muncher. (Cue new Ghostbusters-themed toy line.)
It’s not a spoiler to mention that, yes, the original surviving trio of Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson show up late, instantly teasing at what a different movie this would have been if they were the stars. Up until that point, the movie is actually rather grim and lifeless. Mckenna Grace’s Phoebe does her best by offering a few chuckles with deadpan readings of dad jokes, but everyone, for the most part struggle with making the not-so-funny script, well, funny. There are few, if any, truly laugh-out-loud moments in what should be an exciting action-comedy. (Though I’m sure the single, constantly chortling woman in my row in the theater would disagree.)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is already polarizing to those who loved the original series. Some love it as a painstaking homage, others are pissed that it is a lazy retread. But for the rest of us? Well, it’s kind of snoozer that needs a real comedic kick in the ghostly pants to make me interested in watching any sequels.