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Movie Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ clears a low bar

Movie Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Clears a Low Bar

Forty years after “Ghostbusters” and a spate of sequels that never lived up to the 1984 original — beginning with 1989’sGhostbusters II” — it’s fair to wonder, well, who else should we call? It might be time to, if not give up the ghost completely, at least take a look at the old rolodex.

However, as the underwhelming 2021 installment “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” shown, the half-life of most film series today is an ever-expanding long tail of declining revenues. Though there are numerous choices, milking “Ghostbusters” dry would be a classic example of Hollywood’s nostalgia addiction.

Still, it isn’t quite that straightforward. I’m glad for the female-led 2016 film “Ghostbusters.” Aside from sparking a little culture war, it featured the strongest comic ensemble since the original, including Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and, yes, Chris Hemsworth.

And, as simple as it is to characterize the latest one, “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” as another half-hashed retread — which it is, to some extent — it is also a big improvement over “Afterlife,” which transferred the action to Oklahoma and forgot to include any comedy. “Frozen Empire,” mercifully returning to New York, is a breezier, more serviceable sequel with modest charm as a ’80s-tinged family adventure.

The natural popularity of “Ghostbusters” stemmed from its bold mingling of genres — adult-edged comedy with sci-fi toys — which resurrected the spirit of “Abbott of Costello Meets Frankenstein.” When sequels fail, it’s typically because they become mired down in solemnity or special effects when all they really need is Bill Murray’s it’s-the-end-of-the-world-and-I-feel-fine smile. I’d tolerate poor visual effects much sooner than I would dull comic interaction.

“Frozen Empire,” on the other hand, revolves with a family rather than a group of humorous people wearing proton packs. The film begins with Gary driving the Ectomobile down Fifth Avenue, Callie sitting shotgun, and her two children, Trevor and Phoebe, in the back seat, all squabbling in chase of a “sewer dragon” apparition.

The cast is largely the same as in “Afterlife,” but the behind-the-scenes talent has been rearranged. Jason Reitman took over directing from his father, Ivan Reitman, and is also recognized as a producer and writer. Gil Kenan, who co-wrote “Afterlife,” directs “Frozen Empire,” which pays tribute to the older Reitman, who died in 2022.

More than ever, you can sense the growing distance from the original “Ghostbusters.” Harold Ramis passed away in 2014, and while Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson are all back, they no longer feel like the axis to this film world.

Familiar-faced ghosts return, too, in “Frozen Empire,” which, like its predecessor, doesn’t scrimp on the fan service. That tendency to appeal to “Ghostbusters” diehards continues to erode a franchise that recoiled defensively following the 2016 “Ghostbusters.”

However, if you accept the low-bar aims of “Frozen Empire,” you may have a pleasant enough experience. It feels more like a high-production-value TV pilot for an entertaining sitcom, with Rudd playing the stepfather, than a big-screen event comparable to the original.

The family has relocated to the famous fire station, but trouble abounds. The contaminated unit is overcrowded, the mayor wishes to evacuate, and there are unsettling rumblings about a relic discovered — the Orb of Garraka — which may awaken a particularly fearsome spirit.

People get slimed. Ghosts are busted. New Yorkers shrug. With a few interesting twists, the formula is followed to. The standout here is Grace, who had a brief but emotional relationship with a ghost following a late chess play in Washington Square Park. And Kumail Nanjiani more or less steals the show as a Queens man and reluctant heir to the magical job of “Firemaster.” He’s amusing enough to almost persuade you, in an overextended movie franchise, not to give up just yet.

The Motion Picture Association has classified “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” a Sony Pictures film, PG-13 for supernatural action/violence, language, and suggestive content. Running time: 115 minutes. Two and one-half stars out of four.



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