There are moments — whole stretches even — in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” where I thought, “If I was 10-12 years old, I’d love sitting through this.” The rest of the time I couldn’t imagine anyone OVER 10 wanting to.
A sometimes dark, occasionally warm revisiting of the franchise, it turns into a love letter to the late Harold Ramis, sweetest of the original “Ghostbusters” and the filmmaker who gave us, and Bill Murray, “Groundhog Day,” the romantic comedy that keeps on giving.
Whatever the stars, studio and director say about this project’s provenance, I’ll bet the Ramis resurrection was the deal-maker that finally got these “busters” back together. That, and the fact that original director Ivan Reitman’s son Jason REALLY needs a hit.
Because that’s the other take-away from this “Next Generation” reboot. Who would have guessed that Jason Reitman would turn into this sort of mediocrity? From “Juno” and “Up in the Air” to this? Sooner or later, the epic hype for this movie would have to end, we’d see the finished product and maybe for the first time consider that the son is no substitute for his father, “Ghostbusters” director Ivan, especially in a shambolic “romp” like this.
The set-up — the daughter (Carrie Coon) and grandchildren (Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace) of a Ghostbuster have gone broke in New York. There’s nothing for it but to load up the rusty Outback and motor west, to Summerville, Oklahoma, where the Dad who “abandoned” his family just died.
There’s nothing there but a tumbledown house on the prairie, “This is How it Ends” spray-painted on a rotting outbuilding at the farm entrance and “DIRT” sprayed on a collapsed barn.
We glimpsed the old man’s death, and know it wasn’t a quiet one. And it turns out, the eccentric the locals called “The Dirt Farmer” didn’t leave his descendants anything but debt. Well, debt and mothballed gadgets, an underground lair and lab and an ancient Cadillac hearse gone to ruin.
Here is the telling moment in “Afterlife.” If you’re the sort who gets chills just seeing that white Ghostmobile and its “ECTO-1” New York plates, this is the movie for you. If not? Well…
Teen son Trevor takes on a summer job to try and get to know teen temptress Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), brainy nerd tween Phoebe (Grace, from “Handmaid’s Tale” and “I, Tonya”) is packed off to summer school, where her teacher (Paul Rudd, well-cast) is content to babysit the kids with VHS horror movies of the ’80s — “Cujo” and “Chucky” among them.
That’s because Mr. Grooberson is too busy ducking into his office, which he’s turned into a seismology lab. Oklahoma’s earthquake plague isn’t all due to fracking, he thinks. Phoebe picks up on that, too.
“Yeah, I’m not an idiot.”
With her new friend Podcast (Logan Kim) who “named myself Podcast for my Podcast,” Phoebe will do her own research because “maybe” these quakes “are the Apocalypse.”
“Afterlife” skips through how the New York kids decode who their grandpa REALLY was, and figure out how his tech worked and even get the old Ghostmobile in running order. Phoebe’s matter-of-factly taken up a game of chess with a supernatural entity she hasn’t seen. She totally underreacts when she sees her first “ghost.”
“Over-stimulation calms me!”
Her brother gets a load of something demonic in the bowels of an abandoned mine.
But only Mr. Grooberson, who thinks “science if PUNK ROCK,” gives us a recognizable human freak-out when the impossible pops up, right in front of his eyes — green blobs, Stay Puft marshmallow minions.
The kids? They’re locking and loading and taking up where Grandpa Egon left off — saving the world
Whatever the original films meant to you as a child, few adults found much more than high concept, infantile goofs from the all-star cast, sight gags and New York savvy riffs.
“Afterlife” is a laugh-starved, jerry-rigged clunker that finds about one fifth as many laughs as the originals, leaning towards the “dark” side of pretty much exactly the same story as “Ghostbusters” –without New York, college coed giggles, without Sigourney, Rick Moranis nerd alerts or Bill Murray, Aykroyd et al riffing.
The script gracefully brings a couple of characters back and incompetently re-introduces a couple of others. Annie Potts‘ return is handled with particular ham-handedness.
Why the hell is Oscar winner J.K. Simmons even IN this?
“Stranger Things” alum Wolfhard and Grace are good, and easily pass for the grandkids of somebody who looks like Harold Ramis. But none of them, even Rudd, is a fitting comic substitute for the cast they’re meant to replace.
As “Ghostbusters” was a character comedy with action and special effects, but still mostly a character comedy, that matters.
But impressive CGI ghosts stir up a fury, backpack power-beam cannon still make stuff go “BOOM” and “GLOOP,” and every now and again, something funny happens.
It’s not awful, it’s just not all that. Which might be enough. If you’re 10.
Rating: PG-13 for supernatural action and some suggestive references
Cast: Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Carrie Coon, Celeste O’Connor, Bokeem Woodbine, J. K. Simmons and Paul Rudd, with Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Bill Murray.
Credits: scripted by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman, based on the characters created by Dan Aykroyd. A Sony/Columbia release.
Running time: 2:04