They say you can’t go home again. Well, I mean you can; but it can be awkward, disorienting and in the end you start to question if it was a good idea to try to come back in the first place.
So it goes with “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”
The original “Ghostbusters” came out in 1984 and was so crazy and wonderful that it became a cultural phenomenon as it featured three comedic geniuses (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) ascending into their prime.
But it was such a unique pearl that any attempts to replicate that success has never materialized. A direct sequel with the original cast, “Ghostbusters II,” failed to get the recipe right with the same ingredients and is largely forgotten, while a 2016 remake with an all-female cast couldn’t pull it off and was even met with unfair backlash.
But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” was co-written and directed by Jason Reitman, son of the late Ivan Reitman who directed the first “Ghostbusters.” So at least they’re keeping it in the family.
However, Jason’s sensibilities aren’t quite as madcap as his dad’s and afterlife kicks off with an intriguingly different tone.
Far away from Manhattan in a remote Oklahoma town, Callie (Carrie Coon), the estranged daughter of original Ghostbuster, the late Egon Spengler (played by Ramis who died in 2014), comes to take possession of her father’s farm where he had spent the last few years of his life.
In tow are Callie’s two kids, angst-filled teen Trevor (Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things”) and nerdy/socially awkward Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) who takes after her grandfather.
It’s not long before Phoebe befriends a fellow oddball Podcast (Logan Kim) and earns the respect of her summer school teacher and Ghostbusters aficionado Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd, who does his best to inject some of the original film’s quick-witted humor into the proceedings).
The kids soon uncover Egon’s old ghost-trapping gear and realize there’s some serious spectral activity going on around town.
There is a lot of fun and promise as “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” starts to find its footing, including some cool sequences when the kids do some bustin’ of their own. Plus the movie looks great with lots of sweeping shots of wheat fields at golden hour. Think “Terrence Malick’s Ghostbusters” (of course in that movie all the ghosts would wind up being edited out in the end).
But then the movie starts to falter in the third act as it abandons all of the new territory it has explored and devolves into pure fan service.
Look, I love nostalgia as much as the next guy, but part of the fun of the original “Ghostbusters” was seeing weird and wild stuff that you’d never seen before. Here you have characters saying the exact same lines and sometimes even executing the exact same shots as the first time around.
It’s like watching the greatest hits performed by a cover band. Everyone involved may be extremely talented, but it’s just not the same no matter how badly you want it to be.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” shows flashes of potential for something new and interesting to be done with this franchise, but then again, maybe some things are best left buried in the past.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some suggestive references.