The Pitch: Trying to tell a really good 21st-century Ghostbusters story seems to be an enterprise guaranteed to make absolutely no one happy. Which already makes Ghostbusters: Afterlife a depressing venture right out of the gate; one can almost sense director Jason Reitman screaming from the sidelines, “Are you nerds happy now?!?” Unfortunately, as much as Afterlife openly seeks to draw upon nostalgia from the original, a lot of fans may find the taste of their youth to be curdled by the level of pandering involved.
Things begin with the reveal that one of the original Ghostbusters (the movie gets a bit coy about this, but it’s Egon Spengler, who was played by the recently deceased Harold Ramis) had left his friends and moved to Summerville, Oklahoma in the years before his death.
Following his death, his long-estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) packs up her kids and their big city life to take advantage of the inheritance waiting for them in Summerville — specifically, Egon’s farm and workshop, which contains all the trappings of his former life as a Ghostbuster, plus plenty of evidence that his move to this small town was inspired by a lot of something strange happening in that particular neighborhood.
You Know, For Kids: Afterlife is notably something that the original was not: a family film. The 1984 movie was rated PG, but that’s a pre-Temple of Doom PG, and some of the more explicit sexual references are still pretty striking to a modern audience.
Also, the 1984 movie’s protagonists were, well, four dudes in their 30s, while Afterlife‘s real star, in the end, is Mckenna Grace as Phoebe, who’s all 12-year-old spunk, with the sort of scientifically-driven fascination that leads one to assembling a ragtag team of young people to bust some ghosts and save the world.
Though it’s really Grace’s film, Reitman makes solid use of his supporting cast: As Phoebe’s older brother Trevor, Finn Wolfhard’s awkward baby Bambi gait does a lot of the heavy lifting in making the character come to life, but he sparks well off Celeste O’Connor as his slightly older crush object Lucky.
In addition, while Carrie Coon never feels like she’s being used to the full scope of her abilities, perhaps that’s because nothing save the series finale of The Leftovers has found the outer limit of said abilities, so it’s hard to fault Afterlife for falling short in that regard — and there are a few moments where she’s having so much fun that you can tell why she said yes to the part.
Also, for those needing a reminder of how effortlessly charming and funny Paul Rudd can be (theoretically, those people exist), the movie features one such reminder: How the damn hell does that man manage to make a line like, “Hi, I’m Gary” into a punchline? No clue, but it’s a topic worth studying for a lifetime.
Famous In a Small Town: There’s a striking aspect to the choice to transplant the world of Ghostbusters from its native Manhattan (the original 1984 film often gets cited for its great use of both New York landmarks and general New York vibe) to rural Oklahoma. But Reitman never manages to use it to find his own voice within this material, and Summerville never comes alive as a location beyond serving up small town cliches in the background.