The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire' clears a low bar

Associated Press Saturday, 1 June 2024, 08:41 Last update: about 3 months ago

Forty years after "Ghostbusters" and following a string of sequels that never measured up to the 1984 original — beginning all the way back with 1989's "Ghostbusters II" — it's fair to wonder, well, who else ought we to call? It may be time to, if not give up the ghost entirely, at least give a flip through the ol' rolodex.

But as the lackluster 2021 installment, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" showed, the half life of most film franchises today is an ever-lengthening long tail of diminishing returns. Though the options are many, sucking "Ghostbusters" dry would make a prime exhibit in Hollywood's nostalgia fix.

Still, it's not quite as simple as that. I'm glad for the female-led 2016 "Ghostbusters." Aside from prompting a minor culture war, it assembled the best comic ensemble since the original with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and, yes, Chris Hemsworth.

And as easy as it might be to label the new one, "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire," another half-hashed retread — which it is, a little bit — it's also a significant upgrade from "Afterlife," which relocated the action to Oklahoma and forgot to pack any comedy. "Frozen Empire," back, thankfully, in New York, is a breezier, more serviceable sequel that has a modest charm as an '80-tinged family adventure.

The innate appeal of "Ghostbusters" had to do with its brash mixing of genres — adult-edged comedy with sci-fi toys — that summoned the spirit of "Abbott of Costello Meet Frankenstein." When the sequels have gone astray, it's usually because they get bogged down with solemnity or special effects when all they really need is the it's-the-end-of-the-world-and-I-feel-fine smirk of Bill Murray. I'd forgive bad visual effects a lot sooner than I would bland comic interplay.

"Frozen Empire," though, is organized less around a group of funny people wearing proton packs than it is around a family. The movie more or less opens with the Ectomobile racing down Fifth Avenue with Gary (Paul Rudd) at the wheel, Callie (Carrie Coon) riding shotgun and her kids — Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) — in the back, all in bickering pursuit of a "sewer dragon" apparition.

The cast is much the same as "Afterlife," but the behind-the-scenes talent has been rejiggered. After Jason Reitman took over directing from his father, Ivan Reitman, he here is credited as a producer and writer. Gil Kenan, who co-wrote "Afterlife," directs "Frozen Empire," which is dedicated to the elder Reitman, who died in 2022.

More than before, you can feel the growing distance from the original "Ghostbusters." Harold Ramis died in 2014 and while Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson all return, they no longer feel like the axis to this cinematic universe. (Aykroyd, though, gives the movie some soulful quirk as Dr. Raymond Stantz, and Ernie Hudson may be more a potent presence than ever.)

Familiar-faced ghosts return, too, in "Frozen Empire," which, like its predecessor, doesn't skimp on the fan service. That instinct to cater to "Ghostbusters" diehards (a kind of ridiculous kind of diehard, if we're being honest) continues to diminish a franchise that recoiled defensively after the 2016 "Ghostbusters."

But if you accept the low-bar aspirations of "Frozen Empire," you may get a pleasant-enough experience out of it. It's a movie that feels almost more like a high production-value TV pilot for an appealing sitcom, with Rudd as the stepfather, than it does a big-screen event on par with the original.

The family has moved into the famed fire station, but trouble abounds. The contamination unit is stuffed, the mayor (Walter Peck, who played the nemesis EPA inspector in the 1984 film) wants to evict and there are disturbing rumblings connected with an object that turns up — the Orb of Garraka — that may awaken a particularly fearsome spirit.

People get slimed. Ghosts get busted. New Yorkers shrug. The formula is adhered to, albeit with a few lively twists. The standout here is Grace, who's drawn into a brief but tender relationship with a ghost (played alluringly by Emily Alyn Lind) after a nighttime chess match in Washington Square Park. And Kumail Nanjiani more or less steals the movie playing a Queens man and reluctant heir to the mystic role of "Firemaster." He's funny enough that you're almost convinced, in an overextended movie franchise, not to give up the ghost just yet.

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