Director: Gil Kenan Screenwriter: Gil Kenan, Jason Reitman Cast: Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Celeste O'Connor, Logan Kim, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, William Atherton Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing Running Time: 115 min. MPAA: PG-13

There’s a very telling moment in Frozen Empire when the aged Ghostbusters Ray and Winston debate over their golden years. Ray insists that this familiar adventure of paranormal investigation is exactly how he wants to spend these years. Winston agrees slightly but stresses that he needs to be more cautious and keep the kids in mind. That is exactly what Frozen Empire is: A safe, familiar, and generic retread of Ghostbusters manufactured to be exciting enough for kids and nostalgic enough for adult fans.

There’s a sense of squandered potential, considering this film had a chance to flourish with its new cast. The torch was last handed off to the Spengler family to take over as the new Ghostbusters. They settle in decently by being the misfit ghost hunters of New York City, getting used to the old firehouse that becomes their new home. There’s plenty for them to do when not zapping ghost dragons soaring across the skyline. Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) is trying to assert herself as a mother while her new boyfriend Gary (Paul Rudd) attempts to be less of a goofy geek and more of a stern father figure. The youngest kid, Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace), also wants to prove herself but feels left behind and seeks comfort from a sad ghost. Meanwhile, the oldest kid, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), maintains a friendship with the returning Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) while trying to track down the elusive glutton ghost, Slimer.

The problem is that the torch hasn’t fully been passed down. The old Ghostbusting crew is still around and takes up even more screen time than in the previous film. Ray (Dan Aykroyd) maintains a shop and infamy for paranormal lore and artifacts. Winston (Ernie Hudson) assumes a role in Ghostbuster tech developments while handling more legal duties. Peter (Bill Murray) is still in the game as a scanner of the paranormal, once again plopping tech on people’s bodies and toying with them in his research. Janine (Annie Potts) returns to deliver more dry doses of commentary and little else aside from slapping on a proton pack when it’s time for busting. While it was nice to see the characters doing more than fulfilling a simple cameo, they crowd so much running time that there’s barely a moment for the comedy and comradery to develop.

The new plot of stopping another world-ending supernatural threat leaves even less time for the character. To the film’s credit, Frozen Empire doesn’t once again dig up an old villain (as in Afterlife) or retool an old one (as in the 2016 reboot). The villain, this time, is an ancient demon with the power to take advantage of fear and freeze people to death. I liked how this character is framed and feels like an antagonist straight out of the Ghostbusters cartoon. But so much time is wasted on his exposition, as the characters dart from artifact to witness to the library to find out more. A few moments of charm are wedged between them, and a few attempts fall flat, garnering mild smiles rather than amusing laughter.

It’s a shame that the film doesn’t take off more because it has all the potential there. The theme stressed seems to be one of acceptance, where the new Ghostbusters aim to be taken seriously, and Phoebe wants to be given more freedom as a teenager. So little of that strive feels present when the film zips along at a quick investigative pace, where the moments of stressing family and individuality feel more like obligatory pitstops than delightful detours. The only good thing about the film being so bound by busy work for the characters is that it doesn’t have time to linger on the nostalgia as much. Repeats of Ghostbuster classics like the ghost woman in the library from Ghostbusters 1 and the mood slime of Ghostbusters 2 are thankfully reduced to brief winks, even if it feels like the film has to stop dead in its tracks to play a game of spot the reference.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is not as grossly nostalgia-baity as Afterlife, but still far from the original’s brilliance. It’s a very ho-hum and bland film, and for Ghostbusters fans who have previously endured two stumbling and divisive retreads, that might be a mild-win for them. It’s passable enough to watch with their kids, original enough not to look like it’s blatantly repeating the same script, and nostalgic enough to appease the most scrutinizing of Ghostbusters fans who want their lore respected. The whole film feels like a compromise of a picture that, despite some decent staging, is only a shadow of its full potential and a sad thought that this may be the best a Ghostbusters film can be for a general audience. This busting doesn’t feel as good.

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