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Movie Review: “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire”

By Bob Garver

           

Movie Review: “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire”

            What has happened to the “Ghostbusters” movie franchise? For over a quarter century Hollywood resisted the temptation to spoil the one-two punch of the 1984 comedy classic and its decent-enough 1989 sequel. Then there came the 2016 reboot, which was controversial for its female cast, and the controversy is all anyone remembers. The 2021 legacy sequel didn’t always nail its humor, but there were some charming new characters and a nice kick of nostalgia at the end. But now with “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” this once-mighty property has officially become, well, a ghost of its former self.


            After the bold decision to set the last movie in Oklahoma, this movie finds the Spengler family living in New York City busting ghosts in an urban metropolis. Mom Callie (Carrie Coon) oversees overzealous daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and saner son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and Phoebe’s teacher Gary (Paul Rudd) is along as an unofficial husband/father figure (“step-teacher” he calls it). They’re living in the Ghostbusters’ old firehouse (an NYC landmark, to be sure) with the financial backing of Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) and spend their days going on supernatural adventures with occasional help from classic characters Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd), Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray). Also back are Oklahoma friends Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) and Podcast (Logan Kim) as assistants for Winston and Ray, respectively. Oh, and their exploits constantly get under the skin of Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton).


            I know on paper this sounds like a good setup. You’ve got the likeable old characters mixing with the likeable old characters and one unlikeable old character to be their foil. But all likeability and even unlikability has been stripped away. Phoebe and Trevor have become unpleasant and rude, Gary brings nothing new to the “unsure step-parent” architype, Lucky and Podcast were never memorable in the first place, the shine is off the returning Ghostbusters (the movie lets Venkman make a grand re-entrance late in the movie, seemingly forgetting that he was used in an earlier scene), and personal grudge or not, it’s clear from minute one that Peck is right to think that the operation is a danger to the city.


            One night while sulking, Phoebe plays chess with humanoid ghost Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), who is stuck on Earth until she can cross over via unfinished business. This part of the movie is relatively tolerable, though I will say that Callie and Gary letting a teenager hang out alone at the Washington Square Park chess tables after dark is worse parenting than anything that occurs while ghostbusting. Meanwhile, Ray buys an orb with ghostly energy off the money-hungry, but unambitious Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani). Shared recklessness leads to the unleashing of an ice demon, and Ghostbusters young and old have to band together to save the city from a danger that is 100% their fault.


            I couldn’t latch onto anything enjoyable about “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.” The jokes aren’t funny, the action sequences and special effects are all cheap CGI, and the heart-tugging moments are badly missing the sensitivity they had in the last movie. But I did hear laughing and cheering in my theater. It came from very young children. Maybe this movie is onto something there. Maybe the next “Ghostbusters” movie should shoot for a PG rating (and not the “80’s PG” of the original, which frankly is less family-friendly than this movie) so it can better play to kids. None of the “PG-13 humor” here is really doing the movie any favors. Of course, I don’t think any of this movie’s humor is doing it any favors, but cleaning it up so it can reach a wider audience wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Grade: D

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is rated PG-13 for supernatural action/violence, language and suggestive references. Its running time is 115 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu



 






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