If it seems that the only movie Big Hollywood knows how to make is the one they made last year — and the year before that — there’s a reason. The industry’s franchise fever is real, though much depends on timing. My colleague Kyle Buchanan once stated that successful sequels are usually released every few years, but that those that wait six or more years are more likely to fail. That may be welcome news for the latest “Ghostbusters,” a cautious, painlessly watchable kid-centric romp that is opening precisely five years, four months and four days after the previous installment went splat.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” was directed by Jason Reitman, whose father, Ivan Reitman, directed the first two movies in the 1980s, and was in line to take on the third. Paul Feig, a new director was hired after many studio notes. The third movie became a female-driven reboot. Before the movie even opened, it was the subject of hateful, racist trolling and rage. Like the troublesome apparitions that haunt this series’ reboot, profitable franchises (and even barely-profitable ones) rarely die in Hollywood. And “Ghostbusters” is simply too goofy, too smart about dumb fun and too potentially lucrative to stay buried for long.
And so: “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” which is as cuddly and toothless as you would expect from a relaunched studio property in which the main characters are children and Paul Rudd plays a love interest. They’re all predictably adorable and have big, easy-to-read eyes, the better to widen in feigned surprise or mock fear when various ghosts come a-calling. The cartoonish apparitions include a roly polyy metal muncher, a pair slathering Hellhounds, and some puffy, gurgling animals whose wide-open arms, demonically joyful smiles, and wide-open arms were created for toy shelves and maximum nostalgia.
There’s a story, sure, though you don’t care and neither do I. It’s the jokes, energy and characters that matter, which are largely because the actors playing them are also appealing. The main kids are a brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things”), and his younger brainiac sister, Phoebe (the very good Mckenna Grace). They move with their mom, Carrie Coon, to a desolate farm near Oklahoma (played in Canada by Alberta, Canada), close to one of those small, undepressed towns straight from classical Hollywood. There, the kids pick up two charming second bananas (Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor), crack jokes, battle demons, solve mysteries.
Jason Reitman makes easy-watching, frictionless mainstream comedies and dramas for adults (“Up in the Air,” “The Front Runner”) that deliver their laughs softly and their sanctimony seriously. Like his father, he is sentimental, but his father’s comedies are brasher, more down market and high concept: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito are “Twins,” etc. The Reitmans have split the duties on “Afterlife,” with Ivan serving as the producer and Jason sharing script credit with Gil Kenan. Whatever influence the father had on the son, one of the nicer things about this joint venture is that, while the adults in the story tell the young’uns what to do, the emphasis remains on the action, not the life lessons.
The success of franchise sequels is based on trust and giving the audience what it expects. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” certainly makes good on that contractual promise: There are ghosts, and they are busted. By design, there isn’t a single genuine surprise in the movie. In an effort to create a self-generating franchise mythology that can support future sequels, the movie instead looks heavily at the previous installments. It trots out the familiar gadgets, ghosts and goo as well as beloved faces and Ray Parker Jr.’s indestructible earworm of a theme song. Phoebe and her Scooby Gang fight ghosts on all fronts, just like the younger Reitman.
Rated PG-13 for ghostly peril. Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes In theaters
Source: NY Times