There are early signs of vitality in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” but by the midway point this flabby retread is on life support, rehashing entire scenes from the 1984 original because it has no idea what else to do with itself.
It’s representative of the brain dead spirit of today’s graverobbing reboot culture: resurrect a title, get the old gang back together and hope against hope that something, anything happens. Never mind that the reason that original property holds meaning for people is because it was born out of a spark of creativity; “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” tries to start a fire using a spark that has long since flamed out, so it’s no wonder it never grabs hold.
Jason Reitman, son of “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman and a successful filmmaker in his own right (he made “Juno” and “Up in the Air”), takes the wheel here and starts with a family moving to a town in Summersville, Oklahoma, which might as well be called Nowheresville, USA. They’re heading there because Mom (Carrie Coon) can’t pay the bills and her recently deceased father, absent most of her life, has left her his house.
Her kids Trevor (“Stranger Things'” Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) couldn’t be less enthused about the cross-country move. And once they arrive, strange tremors indicate paranormal happenings in and around town. Who you gonna call?
Of course “Afterlife” ends up making that reference, because as soon as the kids find out grandpa used to be a Ghostbuster it’s off to the races with allusions and callbacks to the original movie. It’s clever the way that “Afterlife’s” script, by Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan, plays with the events of the 1984 film, and sets itself in a world where the Ghostbusters themselves were cult heroes to ’80s children. (Paul Rudd, who stars as a schoolteacher, is stoked the first time he sees one of the gang’s authentic ghost traps.)
But at a certain point “Afterlife” becomes a wholesale remake of the original, with Gatekeepers and Keymasters and Gozer the Gozerian (don’t get me started on the Stay-Puft mini-men, the Baby Yodas of the marshmallow world), a sort of slovenly paean to fanservice bereft of new ideas and with no energy of its own. It’s the equivalent of a Comic Con panel where the old guys come out and do the same old bits and everyone cheers. It’s nostalgic, it’s easy, but it’s empty, and it doesn’t bring anything fresh to the table.
It’s understandable why Reitman would want to walk in his father’s footsteps and jump behind the wheel of the old Ecto-1, but there’s just not enough here to carve out a real or engaging story beyond the callbacks to the past. The “Ghostbusters” franchise had similar issues in 2016’s all-female remake, which struggled to find a reason for being beyond gender-flipping the cast. Here’s a crazy thought: the first “Ghostbusters” worked not because of the ghosts or the busting but because of the chemistry of the cast. Maybe find a new group of actors that has similar energy and pay tribute that way? Until then, let’s let sleeping ghosts lie.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for supernatural action and some suggestive references)
Running time: 2:04
Where to watch: In theaters Friday
©2021 www.detroitnews.com. Visit at detroitnews.com.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.