Decades later, we’re supposed to believe, people still talk about what happened that summer in Manhattan. The one friend Phoebe makes is a supernatural-obsessed kid named Podcast (Logan Kim). “I call myself Podcast. Because of my podcast,” he explains. These are the jokes. Podcast enlightens Phoebe about the original Ghostbusters—as in, they literally sit in front of a laptop watching clips from the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters” on YouTube. A hidden lair beneath the farmhouse reveals all the archaic technology, and in the barn beneath a tarp rests the rusty, dusty car from the original film. In case we couldn’t tell what we’re looking at, Reitman repeatedly lingers on the converted Cadillac’s ECTO-1 license plate and the famous, red-and-white logo on the doors. At one point, a character has to make a phone call, prompting another character to ask: “Who you gonna call?” prompting me to groan “Oh my God” out loud to no one in particular in a nearly empty movie theater.
It’s like that, over and over and over again. There’s a thing you know, and there’s another thing you know. And look! For the serious fans, there’s a super-nerdy, arcane thing that only a few people know. The Stay-Puft marshmallow man is back, but this time in the form of a bunch of adorably evil, normal-sized marshmallows who wreak havoc at Walmart. (And the interior logic in this bit is confusing. They want to attack Paul Rudd’s middle-school teacher character, but they also try to make s’mores out of each other. So they’re cannibals …?)
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is actually more interesting when it’s not a “Ghostbusters” movie—when it’s about a family struggling to fit in among entrenched locals in an insular place. When Rudd and Coon are together, they have a playful, deadpan banter that’s intriguing. When Trevor tries to make friends, he strikes up a flirtation with a pretty, young waitress, but the charismatic actress who plays her, Celeste O’Connor, gets woefully little to do. Grace brings intelligence to her role, but a running bit in which she tries to connect with people by telling bad jokes always falls flat, and watching her here is especially frustrating given the range she’s shown in projects as disparate as “I, Tonya” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Ultimately, though, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” isn’t about any of these people. It’s about the ghosts of the pasts: the original performers, who show up and sleepwalk their way through their cameos. The film’s depiction of the late Harold Ramis is especially cringeworthy. But at least those guys all realized what this is supposed to be: a goofy good time, and nothing more.
Exclusively in theaters today.
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