This is one of those films that seems in some ways to have been mostly forgotten by the world at large. It did decent business and was the sequel to one of the most memorable blockbusters of its decade. I saw it on opening night with a group of friends, and we walked out feeling pretty satisfied with the film. Maybe it was an inevitable result of the contrast it offered; the previous weekend, we'd all gone to see Star Trek V, about which we'd bitched for innumerable hours subsequent. After that, almost anything was going to seem a vast improvement, but we all had a good time, after which I promptly forgot about Ghostbusters II for the next twenty years. So, it appeared, did the movie-going public at large. None of the film's dialogue infiltrated the language. It came, made its money and left quietly. There really isn't much of anything wrong with Ghostbusters II, other than, simply, that it has the word "Ghostbusters" in its title, which invites inevitable comparisons with the funnier first film.
Five years after the events of the original, the Ghostbusters have dissolved as an entity, stiffed by the mayor of New York and blamed for the calamities caused by the deity "Gozer." Back into their lives walks Dana Barrett, whose child has become the unwelcome target of mysterious forces. She and Peter Venkman are on the outs, he now hosting a cheesy talk show on decidedly dodgy psychic phenomena, and the Ghostbusters are forbidden by law from engaging in their old business. Meanwhile Dana's boss, an art restoration expert with an accent originating from somewhere in eastern Europe, has been coerced into servitude of Vigo the Carpathian, a malevolent spirit currently residing in a fifteenth-century painting. And mean-meanwhile, a river of pink slime has appeared beneath the streets of New York, which may bring about Vigo's imminent resurrection. Or may be a side effect of it. Or something.
It's been said that essentially the second film is merely a slight rehash of the first, and such observations are not without validity. Our boys start out on a low ebb, then swing into action as the Ghostbusters. Dana is targeted by mystical powers that seek world domination while Venkman pursues her romantically. Our heroes get into trouble with the law, and a giant creature strides through the streets at the finale. It's fair to say that there's more than a smidgen of recycling going on, but the film is informed by more than just its cinematic predecessor. After the original Ghostbusters' rampant success, a surprisingly well-made animated series titled The Real Ghostbusters ("real" added to distinguish it from a truly wretched Filmation cartoon simply titled "Ghostbusters" and having nothing to do with the characters of the movie) was produced by French studio DIC and syndicated in the US. Ghostbusters II owes more than a little inspiration to this popular cartoon series, from the big (the slime river and the idea of a ghost trapped in a painting were plots of two different episodes) to the little (Janine's red hair, the presence of Slimer the ghost as a recurring comic character, and the adoption of the term "proton packs" for the Ghostbusters' gear in place of the first film's more scientific-sounding but less tongue-friendly "positron colliders"). With all this rehashing going on, it would seem as though the film had little chance to establish its own personality. Alas, it does, and this is where it gets into a bit of trouble.
I don't want to come across as seeming as though I disliked the film; such isn't true at all. The average joke in the film is as funny as the average joke in the first. The problem is that the second movie has almost exclusively average jokes. The really hard belly-laughs are mostly in absentia. In part, it's that the tone of the film has softened significantly. Be it an attempt to rope in the demographic that was then tuning into the animated series, or for some other reason, the fact remains that the more risqué humor of Ghostbusters is almost totally absent from the sequel. In the first, Dana Barrett got possessed by a demon, donned a tawdry red satin dress and tried to seduce Venkman. In the second, Dana Barrett...has a baby. This shift in focus leads away from gags about Dan Aykroyd being molested by a succubus and towards lots of scenes about parenthood and how babies are cute and babies are sweet and babies are anything other than responsibility-laden, screaming poop factories. People who agree with such sentiments might not have a problem with this aspect. But by mostly repeating the structure of the original and then blunting its edges, it unavoidably comes across as inferior. The humor is less wicked, the finale is less apocalyptic, and Vigo just isn't as cool as Gozer. On the other hand, Peter MacNicol as his Renfield stand-in is absolutely hilarious, the best thing about the movie, and the effects are an improvement over the first in technical terms, while retaining their cartoonish charm. As a film unto itself, Ghostbusters II is perfectly entertaining. As a second installment, however, it sadly doesn't give us much of anything we hadn't seen done better before.
Ultimately, there's nothing that Ghostbusters II does especially wrong; it's a fun movie with lots of clever gags and banter that simply doesn't do quite enough that's right. Well, let me qualify that in one area: the film could've used some help in the area of soundtrack. Elmer Bernstein's whimsical, tongue-in-cheek score is sadly absent, replaced by one with no real unifying theme and way too much horribly schmaltzy music of the "sappy '80s romance" stock. On top of that, Bobby Brown's expository rap "On Our Own" can't hold a candle to Ray Parker Jr.'s original, iconic theme song. Outside of that, it's still a pretty successful comedy with a lot of talented players. If it can't boast at being as good a film as its predecessor, well, there's a veritable shit-ton of films without the word "Ghostbusters" in their titles that can't make that boast, either.
-review by Matt Murray