Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

JASON REITMAN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

/USA, 2021. , , , , . Screenplay by , Jason Reitman, based on the screenplay by , . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .

It’s been almost forty years since Manhattan was attacked by paranormal ectoplasmic creatures that makeshift superheroes Venkman, Spengler, Stantz and Zeddemore turned into a moderately successful ghostbusting business before going, themselves, bust. This many years later, with the 1989 sequel and the all-female 2016 reboot seemingly not having happened, we catch up with single mom Callie (a superb ) and her two children Trevor and Phoebe (, ) as they find themselves homeless after her money troubles get them evicted from their apartment. Their only option is to head out to the dusty small town in the middle of nowhere where her recently departed father had a debt-riddled farm that she now owns. Upon arrival, Callie makes eyes at the town’s handsome summer school teacher Gary (a game ) while Trevor gets a job at the local carhop and Phoebe, a science enthusiast who can rattle off factoids like an encyclopedia (which is why the usually blond Grace had to be put into a curly brown wig), begins to tinker with her grandfather’s old toys.

What Phoebe finds in his downstairs lab is all the paraphernalia once used to capture and trap ghosts, because grandpa, it turns out, was one of the original fab four, who was long estranged from his friends by the time he died but brought their operation out to this place where he believed that even more significant paranormal activity than was faced in New York City was occurring. In the film’s first poor plot move to avoid any significant conflict for its characters, Phoebe is tutored on learning to ghostbust by the otherworldly presence of her grandfather (who for some reason is an invisible phantom despite the fact that the “bad” ghosts all look like mean candy), while Trevor starts tinkering with the old white hearse in the garage and learns to drive it almost immediately; after a bad first try accidentally ruining public property in the process, the two of them and her new friend Podcast () become experts at trapping all the ghouls and goblins that are suddenly overrunning their streets after paranormal activity begins to really ramp up in the old, abandoned mine that was once the heart of the town’s industry.

It seems that nothing will ever match up to the combination of imagination and spontaneity that made the original so good, though at this point the major flaw of the 2016 version, that the ghosts were treated with the same flimsy humour as the human characters, feels forgiveable given that that movie was actually funny and not the dreary indulgence in wistful nostalgia that he have here (and that we really don’t need). The painfully uneven script takes a great deal of time to get set up (though some of the set-up does provide a nice comfortable throwback to the kind of Spielbergian wonder of eighties movies) but then skips a second act and gives the characters no significant obstacles towards completing the end goal, the kids get too good at busting ghosts far too soon and then have some ridiculously convenient help to complete their task, the worst of them some embarrassing cameos by members of the original cast (with the Star Wars-ghost appearance of one dearly departed cast member the most cringe-inducing of them all).

There are certainly a few fun action sequences and the visual effects are top notch, but none of the excitement feels earned and director Jason Reitman, as strong an argument against nepotism as ever there was, tries to compensate with a wholly unnecessary story about healing painful family rifts of the past.  He’d do better to have confidence in his star, as Phoebe is the only fully realized character and is given great life by Grace’s spirited performance, but she’s insulted by a series of flimsy personalities that feel placed there to make sure that more demographics are covered than just the fear of a heroic little girl poisoning the box office (of course, it doesn’t help that in the cases of films like A Wrinkle In Time and Tomorrowland, audiences have proven these fears true).  An uncredited cameo by Olivia Wilde (with ‘s voice) as the one and only Gozer is also a treat, but this is a weak film that only gets weaker the harder it tries to be meaningful.

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