Callie (Carrie Coon) brings her teenage son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and awkward, precocious daughter Phoebe (McKenna Grace) to live on her recently deceased father’s ramshackle farm. Phoebe quickly discovers a connection to the Ghostbusters and with the aid of her teacher (Paul Rudd) and new friend (Logan Kim), sets out to solve the mystery of the farm and the nearby mountain.
I don’t recall a sequel going so far from the mark. Ghostbusters was an original, zany comedy that fired on 12 cylinders with improve-like jokes flooding every moment between over-the-top slapstick. Ghostbusters Afterlife is a semi-serious, sentimental (very, very sentimental) light family picture that from time to time drifts into drama and then veers into straightforward comedy. It’s laid out like a children’s movie, but it isn’t one. This isn’t for kids and it isn’t about mining new comedy. This is a pure nostalgia trip. It target is the middle-aged who grew up with the 1984 movie and have forgotten what it was and why it was funny, but instead treat it like holy writ. It’s for those who take Ghostbusters as part of their identity and demand respect. It’s pandering of the highest order to those yearning for childhoods that were nothing like what they now falsely remember.
The mass of sentiment increases until at the end of the movie we are tossed into a black hole of nostalgia.
In short, the concept of Ghostbusters Afterlife is terrible.
And yet, it’s not a bad film. It may be supercharged schmaltz, but it’s executed with professional hands and a watchful eye. When it tries for humor, it usually manages it, and when it goes for emotion, it succeeds far beyond what it has any right to. I could see all the gears in motion, and still those gears turned and pulled just the way they were meant to. It’s easy to criticize the film in general, but there’s little to complain about once you get to the specifics.
The kids are surprisingly likable, particularly Phoebe who is supposed to be uncharismatic while the young actress playing her, McKenna Grace, positively shines. The on-the-nose silly kid, Podcast, avoids becoming annoying. And Paul Rudd brings all the charm that is Paul Rudd in the unenviable role of sidekick to children.
The movie goes to all the places it has to fill in all the dots for its faux children’s plot, but knows to get out quickly on the details that normally would be a drag: The older teenagers, adjusting to the new town, not being believed by the adults. It does what it must, but then dashes on to more rewarding material. In fact it is always moving.
It would be a better world if there were no call for films like this. But as there are, this is how you do it. I may have hated the idea of what I was watching, but I was entertained.