Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ meets minimal expectations  

Forty years after “Ghostbusters” and a run of sequels that never lived up to the 1984 original, starting with 1989's “Ghostbusters II,” it's fair to ask, who else should we call? It may be time to check the rolodex, if not give up.

The disappointing 2021 film “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” proved that most film series nowadays have an ever-expanding long tail of diminishing returns. Sucking “Ghostbusters” dry would be a top Hollywood nostalgia exhibit, among many alternatives.

Still, it's not that easy. I appreciate the 2016 female-led “Ghostbusters.” Besides starting a mini culture war, it had the best comic cast since the original, including Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth.

The new one, “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” is a bit of a rerun, but it's also a big improvement from “Afterlife,” which moved the action to Oklahoma and neglected comedy. “Frozen Empire,” back in New York, is a lighter, more enjoyable sequel that has some '80s family adventure fun.

“Ghostbusters” was appealing because it boldly mixed adult-edged comedy with sci-fi toys, evoking “Abbott of Costello Meet Frankenstein.” The sequels usually fail because they focus too much on solemnity or special effects when all they need is Bill Murray's it's-the-end-of-the-world-and-I-feel-fine grin. I would tolerate lousy visual effects sooner than uninteresting comics.

However, “Frozen Empire” revolves about a family rather than a group of humorous folks in proton packs. Gary (Paul Rudd) drives the Ectomobile down Fifth Avenue with Callie (Carrie Coon) riding shotgun and her kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), in the rear, bickering to find a “sewer dragon” apparition.

Cast is similar to “Afterlife,” but behind-the-scenes talent has changed. Producer and writer Jason Reitman succeeded his father, Ivan Reitman, as director. “Frozen Empire,” directed by Gil Kenan, co-wrote “Afterlife,” honors the elder Reitman, who died in 2022.

You feel further from the original “Ghostbusters.” After Harold Ramis died in 2014, Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson no longer feel like the center of this movie world. As Dr. Raymond Stantz, Aykroyd brings soul to the film, and Ernie Hudson may be stronger than ever.

In “Frozen Empire,” familiar ghosts return and fan service is not skimped. That urge to appeal to “Ghostbusters” diehards (a silly type, perhaps) continues to degrade a franchise that recoiled defensively after the 2016 film.

However, “Frozen Empire” may be enjoyable if you accept its low expectations. It feels more like a high-production TV pilot for an appealing sitcom with Rudd as the stepfather than a film equal to the original. Trouble abounds after the family moved into the famous fire station. The contamination unit is full, the mayor (Walter Peck, who portrayed the EPA inspector in the 1984 picture) wants to evict, and the Orb of Garraka may awaken a particularly evil demon.

Sliming occurs. Ghosts are caught. New Yorkers shrug. The formula is followed with some fun tweaks. Grace's brief but sensitive romance with a ghost (played alluringly by Emily Alyn Lind) following a nighttime chess battle in Washington Square Park is the highlight. As a Queens man and reluctant heir to the magical job of “Firemaster,” Kumail Nanjiani steals the film. His humor makes you almost want to keep going in an overdone movie franchise.

The Motion Picture Association rates Sony Pictures' “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” PG-13 for supernatural action/violence, language, and suggestive allusions. Runtime: 115 minutes. Two and a half stars.

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