de facto film reviews 2 stars

The main characters from the old and the new Ghostbusters films find themselves once again squaring off against ghosts, ghouls, and red-tape bureaucracy in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. After Ghostbusters: Afterlife improved upon Paul Feig’s passable but forgettable 2016 film Ghostbusters, the latest entry takes a plunge in amusement and ebullience, with the film now playing out like a half-baked family drama that rehashes many of the same notes that were done better in the previous installments. It’s safe to say now that Ghostbusters is now at the limit of its endurance. It will be very unlikely that the latest will not hold the shelf life of the originals.

The sense of fan service that was a detriment in the previous installment, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, is a little more restrained this time around. You can feel the effort of director Gil Kenan (who co-wrote Afterlife and now Frozen Empire with Jason Reitman), who attempts to come up with fresh alternations to a beloved franchise that injects more nostalgic posturing, but the formula still feels rehashed, scattered, and cluttered with too many characters and subplots that wear the film down.

: 'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire'

Courtesy Sony

Shifting locations from Summerville, Oklahoma, back to New York City, the film takes place a few years after Ghostbusters: Afterlife, where the late Egon Spiegler’s daughter, Callie (Carrie Coon), is the mother of her son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and daughter Phoebe (McKenna Grace). Together, they have now set up shop at the iconic firehouse from the original films, which now includes their old science teacher and now stepfather, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). They still chase down ghosts in the old Ectomobile more for the love of science, as they don’t get paid much for it other than not having to pay for food, shelter, and other expenses that are covered by Dr. Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson reprising his role), who is now wealthy for his scientific development and research for many businesses over the years.

There are also other returning characters, including Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) and William Atherton, who reprises his role as the pesky Walter Peck, the former head of the EPA and now city mayor who is still determined to shut down Ghostbusters for the destruction they leave (after saving it) with their proton packs. Walter Peck also has it out for 15-year-old Phoebe, who threatens to take action against Callie and Gary for violating child labor laws.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire'

Courtesy Sony

We also get some scene stealers from Dan Akroyd as Dr. Ray Stanz, who now makes money off podcasts and YouTube channels run by “Podcast” (Logan Kim), and Bill Murray returns in a few brief scenes as Dr. Peter Venkman who continues to use his ESP experimental testing on Nadeem Razmaad (Kumail Nanjiani), a layabout who makes money off selling family antiques that have been passed down from generations only to discover his bloodline has kinetic abilities.

After Phoebe gets grounded and is told she can no longer work as a ghostbuster, she feels isolated and ends up encountering and building up a friendship with a teen ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind). The scenes between Phoebe and Melody are so affecting and tender that I could easily just watch a feature film on that friendship alone, but the film dwindles away with endless exposition and muddled plotting involving ancient spirits that isn’t that transfixing.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Courtesy Sony

Early going in the middle of the film are a few well-scripted scenes by a standout actor, Patton Oswalt, as Dr. Hubert Wartzki, a librarian, historian, and linguist expert who interprets the language of a recorded orb that holds ties to a demonic spirit named Garraka. In between the heavy plotting, we have many other fine moments involving Phoebe and Melody, but we get rehashed fan service jokes of Mini-Puff Marshmallow Men and the return of Slimer, which puts Trevor’s novice Ghostbuster skills to the test. The temperature of the film is brought down by the family drama, which doesn’t earn the payoff that it thinks it does. Discouraged, with potential affecting scenes, as the family feels overstressed, there is dysfunction that is built up, but it goes off the rails due to the packed-in plotting and bulging number of characters, where the payoff isn’t satisfying on a dramatic level.

The passion and heart of the film show potential, but it’s certainly unfulfilled by the filmmakers’ redundant undertaking to include more fan service and an unbalanced plot that ends up cramming in too much in one film. The end result feels like an overcrowded mess that clearly hasn’t learned from the mistakes that so many other Hollywood sequels (Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Matrix sequels) made by having too much in one film where so much of the film falls short.

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE is now playing in theaters.