Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

It’s hard to imagine a single movie (especially one that wasn’t a part of a franchise or pre-existing intellectual property) that had a bigger impact on the popular culture than the first “Ghostbusters” movie had on the mid-1980s.

It produced a chart-topping song, not one, but two cartoon spinoffs, toys, breakfast cereals and countless other Ghostbusters-branded products.

The Ghostbusters machine became so massively Stay-Puft-sized that it became easy to forget that there was a simplicity to the success of the movie that spawned all the subsequent craziness.

“Ghostbusters” works as a movie because it was packed tightly with incredibly gifted comedic actors who played a wide array of in-over-their-heads losers who somehow get it together enough to save the world from supernatural destruction.

After the so-so “Ghostbusters 2” came out, it seemed like it was impossible to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time and “Ghostbusters” as a film-franchise was left for dead.

But the power of Ghostbusters-mania was too strong of a siren song for studio executives to ignore and they decided to resurrect the franchise in 2021 with “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” which at least attempted to be an attempt at a reboot, but was still more beholden to Ghostbusters as the 1980s marketing machine than as the quirky little movie that started it all.

That has led us now to “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” which reassembles most of the original cast along with the cast of “Afterlife” in a craven “just play the hits” Ghostbusters retread that lacks any of the joy or originality that made the original film so beloved.

The overly-convoluted plot involves the descendants of deceased Ghostbuster Egon Spengler, plus Paul Rudd as a step-dad figure, moving from Oklahoma to the Ghostbusters’ classic firehouse headquarters where they immediately start busting ghosts in NYC.

The tone is about 80% serious and about 20% comedic, which, I mean, what are we even doing here?

Part of the thrill of the original was in seeing wild and crazy things we had never seen before and laughing hilariously at them; now, 40 years later, bringing back those exact same things minus the laughs feels more like a painful lack of new ideas more than anything else. 

In addition to Rudd, there are some legitimately funny people in here, including old standbys like Dan Aykroyd (who still gets a twinkle in his eye playing oddball Ray Stantz) and Bill Murray (who showed up just long enough to get a paycheck), and newcomers like Patton Oswalt and Kumail Nanjiani (who is the person who comes closest to giving this movie a pulse). But everyone here gets crammed out to the margins by the dreary central plotline and these actors hardly get any screen time together to build any comedic back-and-forth.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is just a drag. It seems to exist only to say, “Hey, remember how good it felt to watch ‘Ghostbusters’ back in 1984? Yea, that was pretty great. That will be $15 please.”

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is rated PG-13 for supernatural action/violence, language and suggestive references.

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