Nostalgia trumps originality in ghost-flustered 'Afterlife'

  • Podcast (Logan Kim), left, and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) fight evil beings in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."

    Podcast (Logan Kim), left, and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) fight evil beings in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." Courtesy of Sony Pictures

  • Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), left, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim) discover what they're up against in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."

    Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), left, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim) discover what they're up against in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." Courtesy of Sony Pictures

  • Muncher returns in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."

    Muncher returns in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." Courtesy of Sony Pictures

  • Amateur seismologist Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) and Callie (Carrie Coon) try to figure out what's going on in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."

    Amateur seismologist Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) and Callie (Carrie Coon) try to figure out what's going on in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." Courtesy of Sony Pictures

  • Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), left, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Podcast (Logan Kim) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) do a little sleuthing in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."

    Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), left, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Podcast (Logan Kim) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) do a little sleuthing in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." Courtesy of Sony Pictures

 
 
Updated 11/19/2021 11:00 AM

"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" - ★ ★ ½

Eleven years ago at the Hollywood Blvd. in Woodridge, I asked Dan Aykroyd when we could expect to see the next, highly anticipated "Ghostbusters" comedy.

 

"We have a script," he said. "All the mechanics are set. The pieces are there. The bolts are there. We have to put a roof and wheels on."

They didn't get put on for 2016's "Ghostbusters," in which comedy stars Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig saved the world, but not their disappointingly tepid reboot.

Original star and writer Harold Ramis died two years earlier in 2014, making a true "Ghostbusters" reunion vehicle all the more unlikely.

Now, Jason Reitman (son of original "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, and director of my 2007 best picture "Juno") pulls off a minor miracle in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," respectfully incorporating Ramis' memory into a nostalgia-fueled sequel emanating a teen-centric "Goonies" vibe to complete its 1980s retro-appeal.

In stark contrast to the original PG film's no-onscreen killing, the PG-13 "Afterlife" opens with a demon murdering Ramis' Egon Spengler, an eccentric old coot operating an Oklahoma dirt farm.

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His destitute, estranged single-mom daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) brings her further estranged kids Trevor ("Stranger Things" actor Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) to live at his dilapidated farmhouse, resembling "The Munsters" mansion relocated to "Green Acres."

Phoebe, a science nerd following in Wednesday Addams' droll footsteps, enrolls in a summer class taught by People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive, Paul Rudd, playing amateur seismologist Gary Grooberson.

In his class, Phoebe befriends a fellow student nicknamed Podcast (Logan Kim), who makes his life the subject of a never-ending documentary.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Trevor lies about his age to get a job at the local Spinners burger joint to make time with a new crush, Lucky (Celeste O'Connor).

"Afterlife" should appease die-hard 'Busters fans with its parade of Easter eggs, verbal homages to the 1984 movie and Rob Simonsen's comically sinister music, channeling Elmer Bernstein's iconic original score.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But an abject lack of mystery, magic and awe haunts the production, especially when Phoebe remains perfectly placid when chess pieces move by themselves as she nonchalantly plays a game with an unseen entity, as if it were nothing unusual.

Even Phoebe's sudden realization that her dead grandfather might be the entity is met with zero degrees of amazement.

The demon Gozer makes an expected return appearance, along with the Terror Dogs, the Gatekeeper, the Key Master, and even the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, here, recycled as plastic bags of tiny little Mini-Me's to be roasted, toasted and splattered in a Mix Master.

The first "Ghostbusters" got by without a single car chase scene, a cliché embraced here, once when Phoebe, speeding along inside a refurbished Ghostmobile, shoots up the town with a Proton Pack, rebuilt with help from her shady grandpa.

Nostalgia trumps originality in this "Afterlife," and Jason Reitman, co-writing with Gil Kenan, gleefully exploits it during the climactic sequence, followed by two extra endings. (When you see Sigourney Weaver's name in the closing credits, you might be thinking, "Wait a minute. Sigourney Weaver wasn't even in this movie!" Be patient and keep watching.)

The ending alone should prompt AARP magazine to name "Afterlife" one of the top 10 movies of 2021. The banter between the first 'Busters is both a blessing and a curse, for it displays the impeccable comic timing and nuanced delivery that elevated the original movie, elements that elude most of this sequel, even with the roof and the wheels on.

• • •

Starring: Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Bill Murray, Day Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Other: A Columbia Pictures release. In theaters. Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and suggestive references. 124 minutes

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