The Ecto-1! Ghostbusters never left, but the Afterlife reboot is so different from its original forebears that there are plenty of retconning of the existing cast members that the movie will leave us scratching our heads as we prepare to leave the theater.
In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Patty (Jillian Bell) and Jenny (Erin Gilbert) are now widowed parents in suburban Washington. The town is overrun with ghosts, and, as so many things nowadays, come with their own app.
Besieged by an onslaught of phantoms, though, Melissa McCarthy’s straight-laced Inspector Clouseau saves the day by finding the next logical explanation for them all to be kids of spectral parents.
From there, the scribe behind the 1989 originals, Amy Heckerling, digs up the paranormal movie clichés that she and then-writer Lee Eisenberg mined in Ghostbusters.
It’s a fun romp, and an unexpectedly touching one too, as the life of each character plays out the endless cliches of supernatural detectives at work.
The girls bonding over candy (a must for any working ghost expert); the boys catching ghosts (a precursor to Police Squad); McCarthy’s thwarted maternal instincts; and the ghost needing a new corpse are all the stuff that has made the Ghostbusters series a franchise worth watching (and emulated).
What the movie isn’t is a retread. Its every image and moment feels like it has been brought back from the grave to prove that one can still get the goods in thirty years.
To that end, Heckerling makes a few excellent revisions. She adds a teeny bit of a plot thread to up the ante on the supernatural/youth trope. And she lets McAullife’s public tiff with Eaglemoss (Paul Rudd) play out in a minor way, rather than a farcical one, as it did in the original.
The new movie’s era-bending also involves new actors who remember more than a few scenes from the original movie. Bell, a first-time actress when she was cast in Ghostbusters, should be thankful for that. She plays a deeply intelligent woman whose grief over losing her husband never descends into typical maudlin muck.
McCarthy carries over the hilarity that made her so funny in the original, and you know that the actress owes plenty of that affection to her late mother.
Yes, after nearly four decades of doing the exact same thing, it’s a good thing that Heckerling and McCarthy have something fresh to keep the Ghosts of Ghostbusters Alive.