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“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire”: Chilling with friends old and new | Movie review

Man, so many Ghostbusters to call.

In theaters this week, “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is the follow-up to the largely enjoyable 2021 adventure “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” The latter, which saw Jason Reitman — son of Ivan Reitman, director of 1984’s original “Ghostbusters” and its 1989 sequel, “Ghostbusters II” — at the helm, introduced a new generation of brave spirit-catching souls while also bringing back key legacy characters.

Well, the “Ghostbusters” franchise obviously isn’t ready to let go of the past.

“Frozen Empire” — co-written, like its predecessor, by Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan, who takes over directing duties this time — is similarly packed with multiple generations of Ghostbusters. As a result, it doesn’t feel as fresh as “Afterlife.”

Nonetheless, it’s again a pretty entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

Following a prologue set in 1904 New York City in which a few frozen folks literally fall to pieces, we move to the modern Big Apple and catch up with the family at the heart of the new movie, descendants of deceased original Ghostbuster Egon Spengler. Mom Callie (Carrie Coon), son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) are out on the hunt, packed into the vehicle synonymous with the Ghostbusters, Ecto-1, being driven by Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who’s graduated from being Phoebe’s teacher to her, um, “step-teacher,” as he awkwardly puts it.

Bankrolled by Ghostbuster-turned-philanthropist Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), the family now resides in the Ghostbusters’ old Tribeca firehouse, traveling by pole from where they sleep to the other levels of the aged building.

Another hero is, again, Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz, the former Ghostbuster now spending his time buying old objects he eagerly scans with his PKE reader for paranormal energy and hosts an online show with the help of Podcast (Logan Kim), who has migrated to New York from Oklahoma along with the Spenglers, as has Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), Trevor’s friend.

We also get — and no complaints here — Bill Murray’s original Ghostbuster Peter Venkman popping in for a few meaningful minutes of screentime.

Expect another familiar face or two, while newcomers include Patton Oswalt’s Dr. Hubert Wartzki, an expert in ghostly and ghastly folklore, and James Acaster’s Lars, a scientist working with Winston’s new Paranormal Research Center. (Making his film debut, Acaster is a very creative comedian who earns a few lab-related laughs.)

The more important new characters, however, are Melody (Emily Alyn Lind of “Gossip Girl”), a ghost trapped in this world who befriends Phoebe, and Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani), a neighborhood hustler who must embrace his destiny as “the firemaster” if humanity is to survive a coming threat.

That danger is Garraka, a terrifying demon with the power of “the death chill” who has been trapped in an ancient artifact for more than a century.

With so many characters to juggle and seemingly determined to give us a reasonable runtime, Reitman and Kenan don’t even try to give many of them arcs. The major exception is Phoebe, who’s benched after the fact that she’s only 15 becomes an issue for New York’s mayor, who’s not exactly a longtime ally of the Ghostbusters. (Meanwhile, Trevor is now 18 and wants to be treated like an adult, but “Stranger Things” star Wolfhard rather quickly becomes an afterthought in “Frozen Empire.”)

The most fun is provided by Nanjiani, the star of “The Big Sick” and “The Lovebirds” sticking some comedic lines as only he can as the increasingly important Nadeem.

Overall, even as “Frozen Empire” is essentially going through the ghostbusting motions, it is consistently pleasant thanks to its appealing cast. For example, Rudd (“Ant-Man”) is his usual brand of everyman-charming as Gary, who is asked by girlfriend Callie to start being more of a dad to her kids, which will mean being the bad guy sometimes.

Tastes surely vary on this kind of thing, but we’re pleased that, after building up the threat of Garraka, “Frozen Empire” doesn’t devolve into a seemingly endless supernatural battle sequence — like certain “Ghostbusters” installments we could name. Fear not, for there are ice spikes and proton packs aplenty in the climax, but we all know how this affair is going to end, so there’s no need to drag it out.

Counting the disappointing 2016 reboot, “Ghostbusters,” “Frozen Empire” — appropriately dedicated to Ivan Reitman, who died a few months after the release of “Afterlife” — is the fifth film in the franchise, and we’re guessing a sixth isn’t too far off in the distance.

We wouldn’t mind that, but maybe don’t invite quite so many folks to that paranormal party.

‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’

Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Where: in theaters.
Stars (of four): 2 1/2

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