As for the original 1984 Ghostbusters, you have to remember this: It’s FUN!
This is thanks to Bill Murray’s deadpan supply line, Dan Aykroyd’s fluent speeches in cryptic techno language, Harold Ramis’ amusing observations, and Ernie Hudson’s confusion in the face of all the strange events.
Thing is, the cast seemed to be ecstatic. This feeling remains strong and loud even after 37 years and countless re-views.
Continuation of 1989, not so much. It looks flat in comparison. Without inspiration. Disabled criticism and the public. Murray was so confused that he resisted creating any sequels for decades.
The 2016 Ghostbusters with the female cast have reclaimed the mojo. Despite a lot of hate on the Internet, mostly from misogynists, it’s actually pretty funny. Kate McKinnon’s insane twinkle carries a lot of comedic burden. Again, you get the feeling that the actors are having a lot of fun.
This brings us to Ghostbusters: The Afterlife. NOT FUNNY!
At least not really.
Screenwriter-director Jason Reitman (In the Air), son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the first two films and produced this one, made the not unreasonable decision to rejuvenate the franchise. This time, the story focuses on the mother and her two teenage children.
Mom, Callie (Carrie Kuhn), is the daughter of Egon Spengler (a character played by Ramis, who died in 2014). The story goes that Spengler fled Manhattan, the site of his ghost hunting exploits, to a remote farm in Oklahoma where he lived and died as a mysterious hermit. He dies in the opening scene, apparently frightened of a heart attack due to ectoplasmic spirits. Not funny at all.
The boy, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard, best known for the Netflix movie Stranger Things), is a slightly cynical 15-year-old who is not too happy about being kicked out of his home in the city and put on sticks. His sister, 12-year-old Phoebe (McKenna Grace), is the brain of the family, clearly inheriting Egon’s penchant for science.
Hiding in her grandfather’s creepy old manor, which looks like the Psycho home on the prairie, she finds some of his old gizmos, like the nuclear bomb he and his associates used to capture otherworldly creatures back then. With surprising ease, she intuitively understands how they work. You see, she’s a genius.
When Trevor literally discovers his grandfather’s old fancy Ecto-1 Caddy under a tarp in a rickety farm shed, the kids suddenly return to the family business. Evil spirits literally shake the city. (Earthquakes! Unheard of in once-calm villages.) They must be stopped.
These Spenglers are not a close-knit family. In the way the actors play their roles, there isn’t much of a sense of connection between the characters. Callie is a single mother who gives a hint of what the children’s father was and claims that she has no memory of her father at all. She seems strangely detached from her offspring. Children seem to be emotionally detached from each other. It’s like everyone is filming their own private film.
Callie has Paul Rudd in her hand, playing a summer school teacher who for some reason uses the movie Kujo to entertain his class. They look at a terrible picture without expression. It must be funny.
Humor as it is, it seems like it was handed out in a pipette. A drop here, a spot there. For over an hour, Stay-Puft mini marshmallows riot the department store. It’s funny for a moment.
You wait for the picture to really take off. Honestly, you’re waiting for Murray, Aykroyd, and Hudson to show up and come to life. (They are listed in the credits, after all.)
You wait, and you wait, through many scenes with special effects, for the cavalry to save the day, but by the time it finally appears, the picture is long dead. And then, at the end, there is a big surprise, which is the most shamelessly sentimental moment seen in films over many moons.
The person despairs.