“Death is but a door. Time is but a window. I’ll be back.”
After its release in 1984, Ghostbusters became a national phenomenon. Giving the world a witty comedy inside a science fiction narrative was unique and the finished film found a way to transcend age by appealing to all. As a result, the studio decided to monetize the name by spawning an animated television show—“The Real Ghostbusters”—a plethora of toys, and even a neon green Hi-C juicebox in Ecto Cooler. Columbia Pictures had a goldmine on their hands and the desire to produce a sequel while the iron was hot couldn’t be denied. Director Ivan Reitman and writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis felt no desire to concoct a follow-up, however, believing that the original stood alone and ended exactly where they felt it should. But the money-machine holds too much clout and the three wrestled with ideas, eventually deciding they may be able to have a go after all.
Ghostbusters II was thusly born from slime—literally. By latching onto one of the funnier physical gags from the original, the comedians fashioned a tale around New York City’s never-ending vitriol facilitating a river of emotionally resonate slime beneath it. A gooey phlegm-like substance common in the cartoon—and the namesake of fan-favorite Slimer—its inclusion in the film meant skewing away from the more intellectual humor of the first for easier, lowest common denominator jokes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different. Gone are character nuances, each now a caricature for cheap laughs accomplishing less for plot than filling runtime. Watching it today still garnered a lot of chuckles, but viewing it so soon after its predecessor does make me wonder how much of my love rests in nostalgia rather than quality craftsmanship.
Either way, the set-up is actually quite brilliant. Five years have passed since the paranormal cesspool of Gozer was run out of NYC in a mess of marshmallow and the Ghostbusters find themselves lost. Venkman (Bill Murray) is now a reviled TV talk show psychic; Egon (Ramis) continues his studies via academia; and Ray’s (Aykroyd) occult bookshop owner moonlights with Winston (Ernie Hudson) as a birthday party act receiving chants of “He-Man” when asking eight-year olds, “Who you gonna call?” Their status as rockstars gone, the quartet has begrudgingly moved on with their lives as distant memories do little to silence present frustration. The mayor won’t even grant them more than two minutes of face time after practically winning reelection courtesy of their heroics, his new aide Jack Hardemeyer (Kurt Fuller) a thorn in their side. But not everyone has forgotten.
Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver)—jilted by Venkman since we last met and steadfast in avoiding him—knows Egon is the only one who can help once her baby’s stroller goes on a kamikaze ride through busy downtown streets. Unwittingly drawn into the paranormal chaos again, Dana’s luck proves to be disastrous. On leave from the orchestra, it’s her new job restoring paintings at a museum that makes her son Oscar the prime candidate for possession by 17th century tyrant Vigo the Carpathian (played by Wilhelm von Homburg and voiced by Max von Sydow) while employed by the over-the-top Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol). A heavily accented weasel, Janosz cultivates ideas of grandeur to rule the world with Vigo and finally win his star pupil’s affections. Unfortunately for him—much like Louis (Rick Moranis) in the first—he isn’t quite Dana’s idea of a prime candidate to father her children. Especially after helping possess them with mass-murdering spirits.
A simple plot, it sadly leaves a lot to be desired. Its mirroring of the original exacerbates shortcomings and its influx of jokes isn’t enough to compensate. Dana and Venkman’s unrequited love sparks as though they’ve been having an affair this entire time, her damsel in distress never missing a beat; Annie Potts’ Janine puts the moves on another nerd in Louis—the character gutted the most into a shadow of his former self—this time to mussed hair success; and Ray lets his exuberance get the best of him again, bringing yet another creature onto our plane of existence. A mental institution plays a similar role as jail did previously and a blue hardhat wearing utility working even finds a way to bureaucratically shut them down here as well—some things never change.
You can’t necessarily blame Aykroyd and Ramis for sticking to what worked before—especially considering they didn’t want to write the film in the first place—but you can’t exactly praise them either. When the biggest change becomes letting MacNicol run wild to create an immigrant from the West Side effeminately waving his hands, smiling creepily, and shrieking goofily, their priorities are definitely skewed. That’s not to say I don’t love Janosz; he is by far the most memorable piece of the film and fantastic fodder for hysterics. But why must the stakes by constantly subverted with joke? Even the creation of uncontrollable ooze with malicious intent coursing through it somehow becomes the equivalent to Mexican jumping beans when Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” plays. The potential for darkness is there, but the Ghostbusters name was no longer allowed to be edgy after the youth of America adopted it for themselves.
Not a total waste with rousing scenes like Winston’s nightmarish run in with a ghost train; some intriguing cameos by Cheech Marin, Philip Baker Hall, Kevin Dunn, and Bobby Brown; and the return of Murray’s enjoyable quips, I do wonder what my feelings would be had I not watched it religiously on HBO and VHS throughout the 90s. There is a sentimental charm clouding my judgment and weighing the comedy much higher than I probably should in comparison to the theatrics used to hide its rather weak story. I wonder if Murray’s current revulsion in doing a third entry has roots in the fact he sold out to an inferior product back in 1989 already. But then I remember Garfield and its sequel and begin to think carefully constructed ploy to keep the Ghostbusters name alive. For what it’s worth, though, as a fun adventure to mindlessly watch and laugh at, Ghostbusters II gets the job done. If only I could still drink Ecto Cooler while enjoying it …
courtesy of Sony Movie Channel