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‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ sleepwalks through the old neighborhood in a warmed-over sequel

On the plus side, “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” doesn’t have to play coy about the inclusion of original cast members 40 years later, after having sought to keep that a surprise with 2021’s “Afterlife.” Yet having them around creates a very busy movie that lacks the emotional hook of its predecessor, while spending too much time on the wrong characters in a way that yields a rather lifeless, chilly affair.

If the first film focused on the daughter (Carrie Coon) and grandkids (Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace) of the late Egon Spengler accepting his ghostbusting legacy – and the former’s new beau in the form of Gary (Paul Rudd) – the second bogs down in teen issues and new supporting players, without giving its senior class much to do.

Indeed, Bill Murray always served as the beating comedic heart of the 1980s editions, and while he’s answered the call (seemingly without much enthusiasm), his screen time proves woefully brief.

The whole movie, in fact, has a slightly scattered feel, taking too long to establish the nature of the latest supernatural threat and devoting its biggest source of tension to the brilliant 15-year-old Phoebe (Grace) feeling underappreciated, in a petulant-teen sort of way, as well as adjusting to her mom and Gary’s nebulous relationship.

Bill Murray reprises his role, briefly, in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire." - Sony Pictures
Bill Murray reprises his role, briefly, in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire." - Sony Pictures

Said threat involves an artifact that holds the key to unleashing a destructive being capable of freezing the world. The item was inherited by Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani), who just wants to cash in on his grandmother’s collection but reluctantly gets drawn into the plot.

After the connection of having Jason Reitman direct the last film – picking up the baton from his father, Ivan Reitman – Gil Kenan slides into the director’s chair this go-round, again sharing credit with Reitman on the script. (The film carries a dedication to Ivan, who died in 2022.)

Despite an abundance of callbacks to the original – and the participation of Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and William Atherton – “Frozen Empire” proves too mechanical to consistently deliver as a source of nostalgia. Similarly, the origins of the Spenglers – and using that as a means of paying tribute to the late Harold Ramis – simply worked better than where the family currently stands, collectively and individually.

Granted, the cast is too talented not to conjure a few amusing moments, but it’s hard to escape the sense of a movie that’s sleepwalking through the old neighborhood as opposed to playfully strolling down memory lane.

For all that, it’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of the “Ghostbusters,” but “Frozen Empire” at best feels like a lightly warmed-over version of the concept.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” premieres March 22 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.

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