Nostalgia-Fueled ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ Slimes the Effortless Humor That Made the Originals Beloved Hits
There’s something strange in a new neighborhood in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” the fourth installment in the franchise, but third in the original series. While the 2016 reboot was an all-female team of Ghostbusters, “Afterlife” turns its attention to a younger generation. Jason Reitman, the son of Ivan Reitman, the director of the first two films, not only directs this latest offering, but he also co-wrote the screenplay. As the younger Reitman has already proved himself to be a gifted filmmaker with films like “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” one would have high hopes for “Afterlife,” but, sadly, it doesn’t live up to the hype.
“Afterlife” focuses on the family Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis, who also penned the first two films), the brains of the original Ghostbusters. His daughter, Callie (Carrie Coon), is now a struggling single mom to 12-year-old Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), who has inherited her grandad’s love of science, and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), a more average 15-year-old. After being evicted from her apartment, Callie moves her family to the dilapidated farm left to her by the recently deceased Egon on the outskirts of a small Oklahoma town. Upon their arrival, they are greeted by Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts, in a quick cameo), the former Ghostbusters secretary who was handling Egon’s affairs. As Egon abandoned Callie early in her life, she feels an intense resentment towards him, but Phoebe, who doesn’t have the same emotional scars, feels a kinship to the grandfather she never met, especially after she discovers his secret basement filled with computers, gadgets and other treasures. Trevor, meanwhile, plans to spend the summer seeking love and adventure, and he takes a job at a local burger joint working alongside his plucky crush, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor).
Phoebe is the type of kid who participates in summer school just for something to do, and there she meets fellow nerd Podcast (Logan Kim), who has, you guessed it, his own podcast. She also encounters Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), the teacher who pops in videos for the class to watch while he does his own research on the series of earthquakes that occurred in the area recently. Phoebe and Gary become interested in each other’s work, and he makes her aware of the last major ghost attack, the 1984 one in New York (the 2016 all-female “Ghostbusters,” a far more entertaining film than this one, is erased).
While “Afterlife” contains some fun callbacks to the original films, such as Muncher (Josh Gad), a Slimer-like ghost who chews through metal. Trevor also uncovers the original Ectomobile in Egon’s shed, and no teenager can resist taking such a car for a joyride, busting ghosts and destroying property along the way. However, overall, the film takes itself more seriously than necessary. Reitman gets too caught up in the mythology of this world, and the film is painfully boring at times, such as during the moments where the focus is on supposedly spooky things, like a chessboard with pieces that seem to move on their own. Reitman may have been able to use technology to bring back Ramis alongside the still-living Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson, but he is unable to duplicate his writing style, and the quick wit that made the other films so beloved is sorely lacking. Reitman also adds a mid-credit scene and a post-credit scene, both featuring actors from the original films. One focuses on Winston Zeddemore (Hudson) and his current life, while the other reunites Peter Venkman (Murray) with former Ghostbusters client Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver).
“Afterlife,” which was filmed more than two years ago and then shelved, ostensibly due to the pandemic, seems almost like a step back for Grace, who was nominated for an Emmy this year for her more recent work on “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Both she and Wolfhard are gifted actors with bright futures, but this isn’t it.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” releases Nov. 19 in theaters nationwide.