Rated: PG-13, 124 minutes.
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Logan Kim, and Celeste O’Connor
GHOSTBUSTERS is overrated.
I’m that guy. I like the movie — don’t get me wrong. It’s a very good comedy that didn’t need a sequel or a reboot, or this revival. Yet here we are. GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE thrives on nostalgia, but it’s not simply meant as fan service or a cash grab. The original was the comedy brainchild of Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, with Ivan Reitman making it work from the director’s chair. This revival, which disregards Paul Feig’s 2016 female-led reboot entirely, is not borne out of laughter but love.
And who better to answer the call than a person who was six when his father made the original. Jason Reitman experienced GHOSTBUSTERS like no other child. On set, seeing all the props, and watching his dad work with Ramis, Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Ernie Hudson (we can’t overlook Winston), Jason’s personal attachment to the original carries greater weight than someone who really enjoyed the comedy, grew up to be a director, and wanted to revive it as a franchise at Columbia Pictures.
For a filmmaker whose career trajectory has gone from a dark comedy about a divorced dad trying to be a good father while defending big tobacco (THANK YOU FOR SMOKING) to a drama about a senator’s presidential aspirations being shattered by infidelity (THE FRONT RUNNER), Jason Reitman’s interest in stories about human relationships and changes to set ways seem very un-Ghostbusters like. You’d be right to hop aboard this train of thought.
But Jason wears his attachment to GHOSTBUSTERS like the iron-on patches of the team’s grubby jumpsuits. He bridges the past with the present by framing the story of what he is to his father and what Harold Ramis helped create: a legacy. GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE closes the ghost trap on the original comedy as it tones down the laughs in favor of a family-centric tale where everyday hardships are scarier than monsters under the bed or skeletons in the closet.
After its apparitional opening – where a man known as “The Dirt Farmer” gets spooked for the very last time – we meet a single mom, Callie (Carrie Coon), and her two children, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), packing up their belongings and moving from New York City to Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl. They are trading in about-to-be-evicted squalor for a different kind of squalor. They have inherited an old farmhouse once occupied by Callie’s estranged father and former ghostbuster, Dr. Egon Spengler (the late Ramis, who passed in 2014). Callie looks for a fresh start while picking through the remnants of the father who up and left, which sounds like blasphemy. No way the tall, bespectacled, Nestle Crunch-loving doctor would abandon her, quit fighting ghosts, and move to a town called Summerville to live his remaining days farming dirt.
Move he did, but he wasn’t farming dirt. The locals just referred to him as the Dirt Farmer instead of calling him the kooky guy with the painted signs prophesizing impending doom. Spengler was onto something big before he died. Phoebe’s curiosity, along with new friend Podcast (Logan Kim) and their summer school teacher, Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), lead to opening a box – a ghost trap, in this case – that should have remained closed and needing to call someone for help.
The development of the siblings, particularly Phoebe and her inquisitiveness matching that of the grandfather she never met, are well done. Mckenna Grace has shown more than flashes at what she can do on screen at fifteen years of age. From playing the young versions of Tonya Harding and pre-Captain Marvel Carol Danvers, it is her as a child prodigy in 2017’s GIFTED where she made her biggest mark. Going from a precocious brainiac to a curly-haired mousey brain here, Grace is the film’s heart and is likely to give GHOSTBUSTERS a fitting afterlife if a sequel were to happen. (If you stay through the end credits, the seeds are planted.)
Jason Reitman incorporates little Easter eggs throughout, using everything from composer Rob Simonsen sampling Elmer Bernstein’s original score to having the kids watch vintage TV news snippets and commercials of the OGs (Original Ghostbusters) in action on YouTube to Paul Rudd being the adult who remembers all about the team fondly when he was a kid.
The big supernatural battle as the climax is not nearly as exciting as seeing miniature Stay Puft marshmallow men running amuck in a well-kept and well-organized Wal-Mart store. The callbacks to past stars are handled nicely to not eclipse their younger doppelgangers. Well, for those old enough to remember GHOSTBUSTERS, they just might.
Call it a nostalgia trip or legacy movie, Jason Reitman gives closure to one of the ‘80s seminal comedies with room to grow. It’s just too bad Paul Rudd wasn’t asked the question if he was a god only to answer yes because of his immortal sexiness.