The original Ghostbusters, lest we forget, was filled with ribald humor coming from SNL vets that were in the prime of their careers. Overloading the reboot/sequel Afterlife with gooey family drama feels, in many ways, as misplaced as the missteps that 2016’s version took or that 1989’s traditional follow-up was a fairly weak retread of the first. This franchise hasn’t succeeded in their attempts to capitalize on what made 1984’s pic special and that extends to this.
It’s not for a lack of trying as the 2021 iteration goes to extreme lengths to get our nostalgia radars working into overdrive. Jason Reitman takes over directorial duties from his father Ivan, who made the 80s blockbusters. There’s not a piece of attire or Twinkie or demonic marshmallow from 1984 that isn’t placed with the clear purpose of inspiring wild cheers. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows the name of every nearly four decade old artifact, vehicle or gadget. In this Afterlife, it more often feels forced than welcome.
We shift from the Big Apple to the sleepy town of Summerville, Oklahoma. Egon Spangler, Harold Ramis’s nerdy scientist from the OG ‘Busters, has relocated to a dilapidated farmhouse and cut off contact with his family and former colleagues. His demise in the prologue causes his heirs to inhabit the dusty domicile. This includes down on her luck daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids. Since I think it’s now contactually necessary for Stranger Things players to participate in these reboots, Finn Wolfhard is her teenage son Trevor. Mckenna Grace is the real lead as 12-year-old daughter Phoebe, who resembles her granddad in looks and interests. An outcast at school, she bonds with fellow geek Podcast (Logan Kim) and her summer school teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd).
Trevor and Phoebe are completely unaware that Egon was a Ghostbuster (we’ll just go with that I suppose). Paranormal activities start revealing his life’s work including Phoebe’s ongoing chess game with an unseen spirit. The iconic car (yay!) is stored on the property. Of course, the late Egon was in Summerville for a reason and it has to do with familiar haunters from ’84 and preventing them from returning.
This all leads to familiar heroic faces eventually turning up (though not with significant screen time). With their limited participation, the question is whether the new and much younger generation of spirit crushers is compelling enough to warrant a feature. I didn’t think so, but there are some positives. Grace’s performance is terrific (while Wolfhard and his budding romance with his bellhop coworker Celeste O’Connor adds little). Rudd’s considerable talents (he takes a liking to Callie) add a bit of fun. The sight of Bill Murray randomly turning up anywhere is good for a smile (though not much more here than reading about how he does so in real life).
However, the tone in general struck me as off. It’s hard not to be touched by its tribute to the late Harold Ramis (a man responsible for so many laughs in landmark comedies of the past). I felt the sentiment because of that and not the absence of Egon. Afterlife seems trapped in the notion that our emotional connections to these characters run deeper than they do. Like many reboots nowadays, the mere presence of something old is meant to provide the requisite entertainment value. It made me feel mostly dispirited.
** (out of four)