“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” marks a passing of the torch. Ivan Reitman directed the first two movies (1984, 1989). Jason Reitman, his son, directed this one, the fourth, and co-wrote the script.
Of course, there are torches and then there are torches. The 2016 reboot, directed by Paul Feig, showed just how much things had started to sputter. “Afterlife” (not an encouraging title) sees the flame dampening further. It has its moments, most of them owing to a quite-phenomenal Mckenna Grace,as a 12-year-old techno wiz, and Paul Rudd, as an easygoing science teacher, but they don’t make up for a general flat-footedness and tendency to wobble.
Carrie Coon plays an up-against-it single mother, Callie, in rural Oklahoma. It’s almost as if Reitman is more interested in her story, a movie of its own, without special effects, than all the ghostbusting. It takes a while to determine what the connection is between her and the Ghostbusters. It turns out “Afterlife” is a different kind of passing of the torch, or proton pack, as the case might be.
The hook for the 2016 “Ghostbusters” was a now-female crew. The hook for this one is that the proton packs are wielded by adolescents. You can imagine how happy everyone was at the pitch meeting. “Ghostbuster kids!” What could go wrong?
Callie has a daughter, Phoebe, the techno-wiz, and a 15-year-old son, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). Youth is further served by an irritatingly quippy friend of Phoebe’s (Logan Kim) with the highly dubious nickname of Podcast, and Trevor’s crush, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor). Podcast is annoying, but Lucky is pretty much negligible. Except that without her, her father (Bokeem Woodbine) wouldn’t be around, and he gets off the best line in the movie. It’s the best line precisely because it’s the most familiar line in the movie. You’ll know it when you hear it.
That Wolfhard plays Trevor is unfortunate, not because of his performance, per se — he does his best with a seriously underwritten character — but by association. He’s best known for “Stranger Things.” The Netflix series is about teens battling supernatural nasties. It also wallows in ‘80s popular culture. Sound familiar? This is basically what “Afterlife” does, only with far less energy and verve.
Reinforcements eventually arrive. Rudd doesn’t have much to do, but he does it well. Several characters from earlier iterations eventually show up — this is a surprise? — and if their arrival doesn’t make you happy, then you probably shouldn’t be watching in the first place. Anyone who didn’t buy in to Ghostbusters-ness a long time ago is unlikely to start here.
The last character to reappear does so partway through the closing credits. It’s definitely worth waiting for, not least of all because she has such delightful company. At the very end of the credits, a throwback character who’s already appeared comes back again, but by then the proton packs are in serious need of recharging.
An intro from Jason Reitman precedes the action. “Afterlife” is “a movie made by a family about a family,” he informs us. That’s one interpretation, yes. So’s “The Godfather,” only this one has a lot more special effects and a lot less staying power.
What an odd career Reitman has had. Three straight winners — “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), “Juno” (2007), “Up in the Air” (2009) — were acute and flavorful and novel. This was a career to follow and expect big things from. He’d already left his father behind. Five more features have followed, but none you’d likely remember. Now he’s rejoined his father — literally: Reitman (Ivan) is producer. Here’s hoping Reitman (Jason) returns to form, though not in a fifth “Ghostbusters” movie.
Directed by Jason Reitman. Written by Reitman and Gil Kenan; based on characters created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Starring Carrie Coon, McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 124 minutes. PG-13 (supernatural action, suggestive references)
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.