From its discarded ads to its found footage style, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” reminds us of the original by playing up every possible point of nostalgia. So when a toddler named Lilly shows up in the Ghostbusters’ investigation and engages the team with some innovative self-administered poltergeist-hunting, “Afterlife” nods to one of the original’s greatest scenes.
We’re four years into a recession that has left no state safe for the beaten worker. In that world, Lily’s arrival, and a viral video making the rounds on her channel, are miracles. In the real world, the likelihood of old Ghostbusters bumping into a chubby new-kid from San Francisco on Instagram while making one final low-priority case in their assigned field is possible, but it’s still a fine line. And a line that makes humor incredibly tricky and frankly impossible.
“Afterlife” takes the balls-out risks we’ve seen in other remakes, but its intentions are much more pragmatic. The new setup has just three Geminis rather than the original four. And director Paul Feig, who set Ghostbusters apart in the original while also adding complexity in a trio of female leads, strives to capture a new energy to the series by underlining its emotional pull. If you can tear yourself away from Lilly, you’ll find the cast equally appealing.
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The biggest highlight is Melissa McCarthy as receptionist Erin Gilbert. A magical kind of miracle has driven parents into Erin’s direction over the last four years, not to mention being a contributing factor to the modern epidemic of listless sleepovers across the country. Her new single-mom role in “Ghostbusters” is the epitome of what makes McCarthy such a great character actor: She’s given a meaty part, plays the rom-com warm-heartedness with good humor, and always works. She certainly isn’t afraid to deliver lines that border on the sexist, but that’s just her being McGabby.
Spencer Danaher plays Egon Spengler as a boom-box wielding Vietnam vet traumatized by work in Vietnam. He lets his PTSD drive him insane and even leaves his teenage son adopted out of wedlock. But Spengler isn’t entirely alone in his battle. Director Feig and his co-writer Katie Dippold smartly hang a small moment on Jason Reitman’s father, Ivan. Reitman’s got a dazzling take on the movie industry from his days at Universal in the ’80s, and this is just another example of his wisdom.
Dan Aykroyd returns to play Winston Zeddemore as a brooding, tearful everyman. There was even a happy ending for him in “Ghostbusters” that wasn’t in the script when the film was made. Aykroyd isn’t a big-name, but the masterful irony in the actor claiming that he fears the box office grosses for a release on new-fangled video puts a caveat on his notion of box office success. If you’re a classic “Ghostbusters” fan, the new installment is certainly worth at least a look. But you may be faced with some decisions when you get there: If I can afford my rent with all the money I’ll spend on this DVD, does it even count?
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for brief crude humor and language)
Running time: 1:35
Playing: In general release