Thursday, March 21, 2024

Time to give up on 'Ghostbusters'?


 It would be a mistake to assume that critics never crave an evening of simple diversion. That’s how I approached Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, the latest in a comic franchise that has made intermittent appearances in the nation’s multiplexes since 1984.
 Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, vets of the original, both appear in the new movie, a promising bit of casting and, although the first movie isn’t among my favorite comedies, I was hoping for laughs in a climate of unabashed silliness. 
  Besides, what could be better than an ample helping of the kind of straight-faced intensity only Aykroyd can deliver?
  All I can say is that hopes aren’t always rewarded. 
  Although Frozen Empire didn’t generate embittered antipathy (at least from me), I found it uninspired, callow, and guilty of misstepping by trying to whip up a real scare or two. 
   To begin with, Murray isn’t in Frozen Empire all that much. Aykroyd’s appearance goes beyond cameo levels but it’s as if he’s taking the role of straight man without a comic to foil to play against. 
   The only scene that begins to suggest wit involves Aykroyd and Patton Oswalt, who appears as a paranormal researcher working at the main branch of the New York Public Library.
   Credit Kumail Nanjiani for bringing a shabby conman’s ease to a role that figures heavily in the plot, but could have been further expanded.
    Returning to the revamped New York City firehouse of the original, the movie centers on a familiar group composed of characters from previous sequels: Paul Rudd (now an aspiring stepdad), Carrie Coon (as Mom), and McKenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard) as her two kids. 
     Grace’s Phoebe emerges as a teen with a ghost-busting gift. She befriends a spirit named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind) who happens to be a chess whiz. 
    Director Gil Kenan, working from a screenplay he wrote with Jason Reitman,  piles on franchise references and adds the requisite amount of special effects. But the principal "ghost" — an evil god named Garraka  -- lacks the necessary silliness to keep the comedy on track. The movie takes Garraka, who can coat the world with layers of life-destroying ice, a little too seriously.
    The original movie relied on Murray’s sardonic delivery and the unashamed and often tacky preposterousness of its ambitions. The giant Stay Puft Marshmallow man who trampled Manhattan in 1984 has been shattered into legions of tiny Marshmallow men, a proliferation that’s overused to the point where it loses its whacky charm.
     The movie also includes an additional team of paranormal researchers financed by the wealthy Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson of earlier movies). That group includes more characters from previous editions who are charged with studying the behavior of captured ghosts, perhaps hinting at the possibility of a rapprochement between humans and the spirit world.
      Other figures from the series reappear, notably Annie Potts, the original  Ghostbusters secretary, and William Atherton, who portrays the oppositional authority figure who wants to hold the Ghostbusters responsible for collateral damage wreaked by their efforts.
      Judging by this edition, there seems little need for another Ghostbusters. Passing proton packs from generation to generation has its limits.
      At one point, Aykroyd’s aging character refers to being in his Golden Years. He wants to spend his twilight years doing what he’s done before, busting ghosts, I guess. I wouldn’t wish a life spent playing golf on Aykroyd's Ray Stantz, but there must be a better alternative.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bad review. Movie is good.