In news, non-illustrated, Review

Sure, there is silly fun to be had in GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE, but as I watched number five in the film franchise, the proverbial phrase “10 pounds of you-know-what in a five-pound bag” kept bouncing around my head. The supernatural comedy sequel simply has too many characters (15 main players all crowding together, not to mention several SFX ghosts), too much plotting (at least six major threads), and too many self-referential callbacks to the previous films. I mean, when Bill Murray, ostensibly the big draw here, struggles to fit into such an overstuffed tentpole, the movie is in big trouble.

It starts promisingly with Gary Gooberman (Paul Rudd) and his new family chasing a giant, eel-like ghost all over Manhattan in their supped-up Ectomobile as the new Ghostbusters in town. Together with mom Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon), the widowed daughter of Egon (the late, great Harold Ramis), and her teenagers Trevor and Phoebe (Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace, respectively), the foursome manages to corral the monster in a breathless set-piece. It even sets up Phoebe as the main focus of this film as she bravely reels in the ghost and is set up as a headstrong teen at odds with her family.

Making Phoebe even more of a black sheep is her predilection for moodiness, serious science aspirations, and her keen interest in a teenage ghost she happens upon named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind). That B story feels daring for such family fare, but it isn’t too long before the story starts pulling such punches, and making way for all kinds of nostalgia as the original Ghostbusters (Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray) start to take up valuable screen time. As if such call-backs aren’t enough, the film also crams in storylines for returning supporting characters Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) and the villainous Walter Peck (William Atherton) from the very first film. Inexplicably, Peck is even the mayor of New York City this time out. Additionally, no fewer than five important new characters are introduced as well, played by Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Celeste O’Connor, Logan Kim, and James Acaster. (You can’t tell your Ghostbusters without a scorecard.)

Such a big cast can work in comedy as films like IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD and CANNONBALL RUN proved, though arguably to work the story needs to feel sprawling and equally distributed amongst the players. Here, the story wants to be both vast and intimate. It wants to tell a hellzapoppin story of ghost infestation across Manhattan while also concentrating on Phoebe’s coming-of-age, not to mention giving all the other characters their mini-arcs. Heck, even Peck is given a redemption thru-line by the time all is said and done. It’s far too much narrative, all crammed into a franchise that’s also relying on a lot of fan service as dialogue, gags, and more from previous outings are woven into the film to elicit easy laughs, hoots, and hollers. With all that, it’s amazing the script by director Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman finds room for some shameless treacle, but that makes its way into the narrative as well.

At least the effects are pretty nifty, and a few scenes even have a good scare or two in them. Most of the cast gives it their all, but as Phoebe’s character feels diminished, so does the film. The strong lesbian overtones between Phoebe and Melody start to dissipate like the various aberrations swirling around them. My guess? It may have been deemed too much for the kiddies they want in attendance, or the overseas audiences in China, where such plotting is often excised.

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE ends up playing as both gargantuan and skimpy. There’s a lot of detailed backstory about the big bad here – an ancient Egyptian specter returning for revenge – but there are too many long stretches where the characters just chat about ghosts rather than bust any of them. Perhaps most disappointingly, the final action set piece recalls all the finales in most of the other films that took place in the center of NYC and it feels unimaginative and even lazy.

The filmmakers must’ve recognized the third act’s “been there/done that” vibe as it’s shockingly rushed through too, with very little suspense, action, or even some jaw-dropping visual effects. It feels like everyone recognized the need to wrap things up quickly for fear of the strain on that five-pound bag.

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