Review: At least the cast is having fun in the overstuffed ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’

A group of people gather in a scene from the movie "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire."
Mckenna Grace, clockwise from bottom, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard and Ernie Hudson in the movie “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.”
(Jaap Buitendijk / Columbia Pictures)

It doesn’t feel good to beat up on “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” which is a film with the right intentions: to entertain families looking for spectacle that will please both kids and their Gen X/millennial parents. It’s slightly better than its ghoulish 2021 predecessor, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” in part because there aren’t any holograms of deceased actors, which is a relief.

Still, there’s very little opportunity for critical examination of this sequel to the “lega-sequel” from a franchise that already has one failed reboot on its record. What more could one possibly say about “Ghostbusters” in general, and this perfectly fine but incredibly dull installment, specifically? It does exactly what it needs to do for die-hard fans and families seeking a night out at the movies. As a cultural-industrial product, it’s emblematic of Hollywood’s obsession with reboots, nostalgia and IP, a subject that has been talked to death and doesn’t bear repeating.

In “Frozen Empire’s” favor, it does try to do something that is both familiar and expansive. The script is by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman, the son of original “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman, who died in 2022 (the new film has the dedication “For Ivan”). Though Jason Reitman directed 2021’s “Afterlife,” Kenan (“Monster House,” “Poltergeist”) steps behind the camera here.

The Ecto-1 races through New York City in the movie "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire."
(Columbia Pictures)

It may be a new generation of Ghostbusters, but the family of the late Egon Spengler finds itself back in New York, in that familiar firehouse headquarters, after “Afterlife’s” jaunt to Oklahoma. Callie (Carrie Coon) and her kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), are back, along with Callie’s boyfriend, Gary (Paul Rudd), who has joined the phantom-fighting family.

Even the kids’ pals, Podcast (Logan Kim) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), are along for the ride , interning with original Ghostbusters Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson). Yep, the gang’s all here, every last surviving Ghostbuster, including Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) and Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) , plus a few new characters.

Several of Hollywood’s biggest filmmakers, led by Jason Reitman and including Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, are taking over the Village Theater in Westwood.

Feb. 21, 2024

One of the problems with the script is that there are far too many characters. Every arc is given short shrift, and most of the story beats are all too predictable. Phoebe’s too young for dangerous urban ghostbusting and feels out of step with her family, Gary doesn’t know how he fits in with the rest of the Spengler clan, etc., etc.

These characters may all be in the same place, but they seem disconnected, each preoccupied with their individual dilemma or task. Phoebe makes friends with a ghost that died in a tenement fire; Trevor tries unsuccessfully to catch Slimer. There’s very little chemistry or connection among them, resulting in an unengaging, totally trite and lackluster story.

The one new character that brings some spark is Kumail Nanjiani‘s burned-out loser Nadeem, who pawns his grandmother’s orb at Ray’s paranormal shop. Listen up: Never trust an orb. This one houses an ooky-spooky ice lord demon named Garaka, and he’s the evil Elsa of this land, breathing ice over Manhattan and threatening to unleash every captured ghost. Only Nadeem may have the hereditary gifts to battle such a creature — alongside the brilliant and resourceful young Phoebe Spengler, of course.

Two people stand in  a shop in the movie "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire."
Dan Aykroyd, left, and Kumail Nanjiani in the movie “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.”
(Jaap Buitendijk / Columbia Pictures)

The good thing about “Frozen Empire” is that it’s less of that “Easter egg hunt”-type cinema that Reitman extolled “Afterlife” as, instead using elements of the original “Ghostbusters” in ways that work within the story. The lore may be better integrated here than it was in “Afterlife,” but “Frozen Empire” will still never beat the allegations that it’s merely regurgitated nostalgia aimed at a kiddie crowd.

The good news is that most everyone seems to be having fun. Coon is relaxed, Rudd recites the theme song to great comedic effect, and Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson and Potts are in warm spirits. Everyone else, including Nanjiani and Patton Oswalt, who shows up to deliver some folkloric backstory, just seem happy to be there. British stand-up James Acaster is a welcome sight, even if he is woefully underused. (Once again, there are simply too many people in this movie.)

But even this cast can’t save the rote machinations of “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” as it dutifully delivers morsels of memory. And yet, it’s likely we’ll be back here in a few years to hash out yet another “Ghostbusters” installment. Fingers crossed there will at least be more to chew on, good or bad.

‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Rated: PG-13, for supernatural action/violence, language and suggestive references
Playing: Starts Friday (with Thursday previews) in general release