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Movie review: Humorless 'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire' loses plot

The ghostbusters pursue a spirit in New York City. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
The ghostbusters pursue a spirit in New York City. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

LOS ANGELES, March 20 (UPI) -- By virtue of not including the ghost of the late Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, in theaters Friday, is an improvement over 2021's Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

Unfortunately, it is still not good, and worse, not funny.

The Spengler family has moved to New York, where they operate the ghostbusters' original headquarters in a repurposed firehouse. Problems arise when their latest success still causes significant damage to the city.

1984's EPA agent Walter Peck (William Atherton) is now the mayor of New York in a fun promotion. Not only are the new ghostbusters on thin ice with the city, but Peck forbids Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace) to work at all because she is a minor.

Peck has a point about letting minors work with dangerous equipment. It would be a poignant theme to focus the movie on the adult world holding Phoebe back.

Slimer even disappears from the cluttered plot of "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
Slimer even disappears from the cluttered plot of "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Considering she's the one who understands the science, losing her would hobble the ghostbusters. Alas, that is but a minor subplot in the film, which stuffs so many subplots in the story, it can't even keep track of them all.

Phoebe's older brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), who can still work because he's 18, chases the classic Slimer ghost in the attic...until the film gets too busy and Slimer disappears.

Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) is frustrated by the lack of respect she gets. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) is frustrated by the lack of respect she gets. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Phoebe meets a new ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), which is promising. If the only friend Phoebe can make is a ghost, that could be a touching story.

But Melody disappears for a long chunk of the movie after saying something ominous. Other subplots include Gary (Paul Rudd), now married to Callie (Carrie Coon), struggling with his role as stepfather to Phoebe and Trevor.

Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani, R) sells Ray (Dan Aykroyd) a haunted orb. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani, R) sells Ray (Dan Aykroyd) a haunted orb. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

The main plot involves original ghostbuster Ray (Dan Aykroyd), who buys a haunted orb from Nadeem Razmaadi (Kumail Nanjiani). The orb is the MacGuffin that can freeze New York.

The orb is also causing the ghostbusters' containment unit to overflow. There is so much exposition about how the containment unit holds ghosts and how original ghostbuster Winston (Ernie Hudson) has a team of engineers developing new storage.

From left to right, McKenna Grace, Logan Kim, Dan Aykroyd and Patton Oswalt star in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
From left to right, McKenna Grace, Logan Kim, Dan Aykroyd and Patton Oswalt star in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

These new Ghostbusters movies mistakenly believe the point of a Ghostbusters movie is to have an intricate plot. It is not.

The plot need only be as basic as a new ghost arriving in the city so funny people have to fight it. A little exposition is fine, as long as the characters can make fun of it.

The lack of humor needs to be addressed, but do also note that the trailers are selling Frozen Empire on the frozen New York. That only happens at the very end, and the impact is not vast. The plot resolves inside the ghostbusters' firehouse.

Frozen Empire still has plenty of nostalgia for the 1984 movie. It's only about 50% nostalgic callbacks, which is better than Afterlife's 90%, but the new stuff isn't funny.

Phoebe's banter with Melody reflects the ironic detachment of modern kids, but they aren't jokes per se. That could be okay as an updated element, if the other characters were funny.

Phoebe and Trevor's classmate, Podcast (Logan Kim), is now working with Ray. The joke is that Podcast's jokes aren't funny, but that is also not funny.

Ray whimsically admiring spiritual mythology isn't funny anymore because Ray is no longer trying to explain mythology to comedians. Ray's schtick was only funny when three other ghostbusters would make fun of him for it.

Patton Oswalt has a funny line about an artifact unrelated to the plot, but his role is otherwise to provide the ghostbusters more information. One of Winston's engineers has one funny line about a possessed CD.

Nadeem gives his whole backstory in his second scene in the film. It is intended to be comic to mock Nadeem's pathetic life, but it can't hide the blatant exposition.

Rudd can normally elevate any scene, but Gary falls back on dad jokes and awkward conversations with the kids. When Gary resorts to speaking the Ghostbusters theme song, it's pretty dire.

Frozen Empire introduces many new ghostbusting gadgets that are sure to sell toys. It's hard to imagine kids wanting to play with toys from such a joyless enterprise.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.