Review – Who Ya Gonna Call. . . Again? (“Ghostbusters: Afterlife”)

As far back as 1999, Dan Ackroyd had written a threequel to his original Ghostbusters movies, but it stalled year after year either from studios passing on it to cranky Bill Murray waffling on whether he’d come back to reprise his role as Dr. Venkman. Then came Covid and. . . well, you know the rest.

After years of re-writes, the untimely passing of actor/writer Harold Ramis, and other setbacks, a script by director Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan was finished and boy! It was sooooo worth the wait! After a brief prologue where Egon Spengler (the late, great Harold Ramis in CGI form) has battled some ghosts for the last time, we switch over to his struggling estranged family (wait, he had one?). Single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) has just been evicted and packs up her kids to Summerville, Oklahoma, inheriting her dad’s (Egon’s) creepy old house in the sticks. The children aren’t too excited about the move, either. 12-year-old bespectacled Phoebe (McKenna Grace) is a whiz-kid science nerd, while her 15-year-old brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), has the hots for the local diner waitress, Lucky Domingo (Celeste O’Conner).

As they move in, Phoebe makes friends with her equally nerdy science teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), and a young conspiracy & mystery podcaster in town, who just goes by Podcast (Logan Kim). But strange things are happening in Summerville, like periodic earthquakes and the mysterious abandoned Shandor mines that have hieroglyphs of Gozer! Meanwhile, Phoebe is getting ghostly messages from her late grandfather that leads his secret basement lair where he has her fix a proton pack, while Trevor finds the old ECTO-1 Ghostbusters car and repairs it. This is just in time as a new ghost called Muncher (not Slimer this time), is wreaking havoc. Time for all the kids to spring into action!

However, things go from bad to worse when a Demon Dog is released from an old ghost trap and awakens Gozer (Emma Portner), making all hell break loose in the form of tiny Stay-Puft Marshmallow men everywhere, Demon Dogs possessing people, the Keymaster & Gatekeeper coming back, and Gozer returning in human form to destroy the Earth! Will these kids be able to stop them all? How can they defeat a bunch of ghosts with an old proton pack? And will we see a return of the original Ghostbusters like Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and Ernie Hudson?? And what about Sigourney Weaver & Annie Potts? One thing is for sure, this movie is light years better and more heartfelt than that 2016 reboot p.o.s.

Screenwriters Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan knew their target audience and fanboys and gave them exactly what they wanted in a sequel; a ghost story wrapped up in a mystery with some comedy, pathos, heartbreak, adventure, and best of all, wonderful callbacks to the 1984 classic film that started it all. Director Reitman not only pays beautiful homage to the franchise, but to Harold Ramis who appears in CGI like he was really there. How did they DO that?! The action and story are exciting, the comedy is lite and funny (unlike the 2016 disaster), and the scares are genuine. But best of all, the casting is perfect.

Driving the story is young McKenna Grace who has a track record of being a stellar performer and she shines once again. Looking like a young female Egon, she’s the brains of the new Ghostbusters and owns this movie from frame one. Give this kid a series, already! Paul Rudd and Connie Coon are excellent together, and Wolfhard shows his acting chops again from Stranger Things. But for comic relief, it’s Logan Kim in his first film role. He’s witty, funny, and has terrific chemistry with Grace. I truly hope there’s a sequel to this movie, it was that good! Being a huge Ghostbusters fan, I would have been angry and upset if the original cast hadn’t shown up and (SPOILER ALERT) they do in the final act, bringing a joyful tear to these old eyes. Bravo, Jason Reitman! Bravo!!

**Now showing only in theaters

The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Just when you thought Ghostbusters was an original idea, think again. Co-writer Dan Ackroyd got his idea from a series of 40’s and 50’s movies including Abbott & Costello’s Hold That Ghost, Ghost Chasers with the Bowery Boys, and this early comedy starring Bob Hope.

Bob Hope WAS Mr. Entertainment, a worldwide iconic figure whether he was on TV, the radio, or in the movies. His USO tour shows for our troops were legendary as were his many marriages and philanthropic organizations. Before launching into the stratosphere of stardom with his seven “Road” pictures co-starring Bing Crosby, he made this comedy/drama about New Yorker Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) who has just inherited a plantation and mansion called Castillo Maldito on Black Island, off the coast of Cuba. A suave, slick, and sleazy Mr. Parada (Paul Lucas) tries to buy the land from her, but no dice.

Just as a mysterious Mr. Mederos (Anthony Quinn) tries to persuade her to not sell the land, Mary accidentally runs into Larry Lawrence (Hope), a wise-cracking, crime-reporting radio guy who thinks he killed Mederos, but who was really murdered by nasty crime boss Frenchy Duval (Paul Fix), the same guy Larry pissed-off on the radio! Fearing for his life, Larry hides in Mary’s huge steamer trunk which is sent ahead to the soon-to-be-sailing ship, where Mary meets up with Larry’s dim-witted valet, Alex (Willie Best). To escape the police (and Frenchy), Larry & Alex stay on board, posing as ghost-breakers who will investigate the spooks that supposedly inhabit her mansion.

On the ship, Mary is greeted by an old flame, Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson), who knows the island and will help Mary out. Once in Havana though, Mary is accosted by the twin brother of Mederos (Quinn again) who wants answers. Meanwhile, Larry and Alex strike out for Black Island and search through the mansion, only to find an old portrait of the previous owner who bears a striking resemblance to Mary, and the ghost of a soldier walking around. But there’s no time to investigate that as there’s trouble afoot with a runaway zombie (Noble Johnson) and Parada trying to stop Mary from finding the hidden secret of Castillo Maldito. Hint: think of the organ and The Goonies.

This movie has quite the history, first as a play in 1909, then two silent films in 1914 & 1922, then a 1953 remake called Scared Stiff with Martin & Lewis. Adapted by screenwriter Walter DeLeon (Ruggles of Red Gap, Tillie & Gus), this uneven Bob Hope vehicle was chock-full of Hope’s signature one-liner’s, zingers, and jokes, all of which were funny then, but are considered pretty cheesy and eye-rolling now. That, plus the cringingly “humorous”, but racist remarks that Hope slings at his co-star, Willie Best, whose decades-long movie career was playing stereotypically lazy, illiterate, and/or simple-minded characters in films. Hope called him, “the finest co-star he ever worked with”.

Although titled, The Ghost Breakers, there is little to no ghost breaking at all in the movie. The film is more of a crime comedy-drama with some rom-com through in for good measure. Hope and Goddard have great chemistry and Hope, for once, does NOT play the sniveling coward he usually portrays in all his classic “Road” pictures. Larry’s jokes and one-liners are corny as hell and lame (“I won’t hide in the kitchen, my mother was scared by a plumber!”) to the shockingly racist when Larry talks to Alex (“You look like a black-out in a blackout. This keeps up, I’m gonna have to paint you white”.) Still, for an early Bob Hope movie, you can see him honing his perfect comedic timing and screen persona. Nobody did that better. 

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