‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ packs more drama than comedy

It’s hard to believe that the first “Ghostbusters” film was released forty years ago, way back in 1984. Since it was a major box office smash, the studio wanted a sequel, and five years later we were served the less-than-stellar “Ghostbusters II.”

Fast forward to 2016 and the simple truth is that Hollywood loves to resurrect old ideas. The studio produced a reboot featuring female “Ghostbusters” of Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones. Despite all that talent, the film wasn’t a critical or audience favorite and landed with a thud.

The franchise appeared dead and buried until 2021 when original director Ivan Reitman teamed up with son, Jason (who directed and co-wrote the script with Gil Kenan) to make “Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The film introduced new characters mainly the kids of ghostbuster Egon Spengler (played in the first two films by the late Harold Ramis), as well as their mom (Carrie Coon) and a science teacher played by the always likable Paul Rudd. But in a masterstroke that the fans loved, they also brought back original stars Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and, through the magic of visual effects, even Ramis appeared in what proved to be a very satisfying and often touching movie.

For “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” Reitman and Kenan once again co-wrote the script but Kenan took over the directing chores. The plot has to do with the Spengler family operating the original ghostbusting business in New York City and dealing with personal and professional issues, including a powerful, long-imprisoned evil spirit that escapes.

The story features a lot of characters, both returning and new. McKenna Grace (“Gifted”) and Finn Wolfhard (“Stranger Things”) are back as the two Spangler kids, Phoebe and Trevor. McKenna does a lot of the heavy lifting as the daughter who rebels after being disciplined and winds up befriending a fellow teen a ghost named Melody wonderfully played by Geena Davis look-a-like Emily Alyn Lind from “The Babysitter” films on Netflix. There’s an excellent dynamic between the two young ladies that becomes more complex as the movie progresses.

One of the real highlights of the cast is comedian/actor Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”) as a fast-talking slacker whose sale of a ghost-containing orb owned by his grandmother sets off a major series of events. Nanjiani successfully walks a fine line between being a dishonest con man and a guy who might step up to the plate. He winds up stealing every scene he is in. Fellow comedian/actor Patton Oswalt also gets kudos for his performance as an eccentric expert in ancient languages.

Original ghostbusters Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson are back with sizeable roles, while Bill Murray shows up briefly an hour into the movie and then returns for the big final scene. He does deliver a couple of devasting lines.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” contains much more drama than comedy with a spirit villain that’s pretty scary (The movie is rated PG-13). The movie thankfully does not go overboard on the special effects, something that could easily have happened. The film is far more emotional than I expected and does a wonderful job of tying multiple story points together at the end for a very satisfying conclusion.

Rated PG-13

4 out of 5 stars

Now playing in theaters

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