GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Written by: Harold Ramis & Dan Aykroyd

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts & Peter MacNicol

GHOSTBUSTERS dominated the 1984 box office. The summer blockbuster’s popularity grew to a point where it spawned a line of toys, a cartoon series that ran for seven seasons, and even an Ecto-Cooler drink. Five years after the original film’s massive success, a sequel was unleashed upon the masses. Within three days, GHOSTBUSTERS II had broken a box office record…that was quickly stolen away by BATMAN. Though the original GHOSTBUSTERS was well-received by critics and made a huge impact upon audiences, this sequel never found that same success. Part of this might be attributed to far too much studio interference, but I’d argue that most of it feels like GHOSTBUSTERS II is simply repeating familiar beats from the first film with far less enthusiasm.

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Set five years after the first film, the Ghostbusters have turned into washed up has-beens. For some reason, New Yorkers have forgotten about a giant marshmallow man and ghost exterminators saving the day. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) have become children’s party performers, while wise-cracking Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a psychic television show and sociopathic scientist Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) conducts social experiments. The Ghostbusters are pulled out of retirement when they discover a pink stream of paranormally charged ectoplasm in New York’s sewer system. With another apocalypse-level event on the horizon and Venkman’s love-interest Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) back in town, the Ghostbusters reunite to uncover a mystery and save the day!

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GHOSTBUSTERS II had a slightly bigger budget than its predecessor and it’s clear that almost all of this extra cash went to the undeniably impressive special effects! There are many more apparitions this time around, besides a brief cameo from Slimer. Most of these ghosts are shown in a comedic montage that features the Ghostbusters doing what they do best and others are showcased around the massive stream of ectoplasm underneath the city. This sequel mostly opts for a more light-hearted atmosphere than the first film, featuring an over-the-top goofy Slimer, some brief comic relief spirits, and some cartoony prisoner ghosts. Still, it has a couple of creepy visuals in a famous ship finally arriving at port (probably my favorite scene in the film) and a floating nanny from hell.

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Vigo the Carpathian (physically played by German wrestler Wilhelm von Homburg and voiced by Max von Sydow) serves as a solid antagonist…even if he’s defeated rather easily during an anti-climactic finale. His plans of world domination are quite similar to Gozer the Gozerian in the first film. In fact, GHOSTBUSTERS II seems to repeat a lot of beats from its predecessor to a slightly annoying degree. This is complete with the dumb plot hole of the Ghostbusters being forgotten at the beginning of the film and having to work their way back into the public eye once again. The plot plays out in a familiar fashion as they encounter a disbelieving dickhead official trying to stand in their way and there’s even a giant creature parading through the streets of New York City (though in this case, it’s eye-rolling and sappy).

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Out of the returning cast members, nearly everyone seems dull or tired. Bill Murray is a comedic highlight, though he’s usually the highlight of any comedy. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis look bored, even though they wrote the screenplay. I’d be lying if I said that Ramis’s sociopathic scientist didn’t get a few giggles out of me though, especially in his introduction. Ernie Hudson also returns…to do absolutely nothing. Hudson’s character had more development in the predecessor, which is saying something because he hardly received any memorable moments the first time around. Sigourney Weaver seems to be appearing out of a contractual obligation and her chemistry with Murray is damn near non-existent in this second outing. Rick Moranis is still amusing as the nebbish accountant, but newcomer Peter MacNicol seems to be having a blast as villainous Vigo’s awkward assistant.

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GHOSTBUSTERS II hits the typical pitfalls that plague many sequels. It simply repeats the formula that made the first film work and doesn’t add much new material to the mix. Even though the movie has a handful of solid moments and cool 80’s special effects, most of the cast looks bored and there aren’t as many laughs as one might hope. The energy that made the 1984 horror-comedy into a classic has noticeably decreased in this sequel. In only its second outing, the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise suffered from fatigue. As far as I’m concerned, this film is the biggest reason that GHOSTBUSTERS III was shelved.

Grade: C+

EVOLUTION (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, and for Sci-Fi Action

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Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Written by: David Diamond, David Weissman & Don Jakoby

Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott, Ted Levine, Ethan Suplee, Ty Burrell & Dan Aykroyd

EVOLUTION is a movie that can be summed up in three words: GHOSTBUSTERS with aliens. Don’t believe me? This movie is even directed by the same guy who brought both GHOSTBUSTER films to the screen. He’s treading familiar cinematic waters with a fresh cast and a different monster. I don’t distinctly remember the level of excitement that this film had upon release (I was 10 years old at the time), but I do remember it being a regular sleepover movie (at least, for me). So it had some sort of impact on kids and adults at the time, going as far as to receive a short-lived animated series as well.

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When a meteor crashes into Earth and winds up at the bottom of an 80-foot crater, it appears to be the discovery that Ira Kane and Harry Block, two college professors and friends, have been waiting for. They cut off a sample of the space rock and find that there’s extraterrestrial life contained in some goo from the meteor. What’s even more peculiar is that this goo seems to be evolving at a rapid rate with single-celled organisms becoming worms in the space of three days. Soon enough, the U.S. military arrives to steal Ira and Harry’s discovery. This annoyance becomes the least of their problems, because hostile alien creatures begin to invade nearby areas and attack civilians. It’s up to Harry, Ira, Wayne (an idiot fireman-in-training) and Allison (a clumsy scientist) to take down the alien menace before we go extinct…

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EVOLUTION has a number of famous faces in the cast, but these were the early days for a few of them. David Duchovny was coming fresh off of X-FILES and that seems to be the sole reason for his presence. As the main lead, he’s bland and delivers his lines in a wooden unenthused sort of way. Starring alongside him is MADTV regular Orlando Jones, who easily stands out as the best part of this movie. Jones nails nearly every one-liner he receives and has a hilarious highlight as scientists try to capture an alien bug inside of his colon (without the aid of lubricant). Jones never went on to have the career that he really deserved, but he’s easily the best part of this whole film. Ted Levine and a (far younger) Ty Burrell serve as inept military officers. They aren’t played for laughs, but do play off each other well as dickhead human antagonists. Seann William Scott (coming off AMERICAN PIE) is hit-or-miss as the would-be fireman. Dan Aykroyd is sadly underutilized as the city’s Mayor, while Julianne Moore is wasted on a one-joke character. The joke is that she’s clumsy and the movie gets all the mileage it can out of her tripping, dropping stuff, and running into things.

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The story itself is predictable. You won’t have a hard time at all guessing how everything will play out, but that’s doesn’t necessarily make the whole film bad as the encounters with the aliens themselves are fun. Some of the effects haven’t aged well over time, while others look impressive. One monster coming out of a lake is Syfy level quality of CGI these days, but looked pretty cool at the time this film was made. The alien designs are also creative with a green-skinned dog-like creature, winged dinosaurs, and blue-skinned apes being highlights. The movie too often relies on cheap, obvious humor, but even these moments can get still get a few laughs out of me.

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EVOLUTION is pretty much a shameless remake of GHOSTBUSTERS under a different name, complete with a climax involving characters wearing matching jump-suits to take down a giant otherworldly menace. The cast is a mixed bag with certain actors being highlights and others being wasted on bland characters. The aliens themselves are cool to look at and the scenes of our heroes fighting them are enjoyable. I won’t deny that my vision of this film might be slightly clouded by a nostalgic haze (I watched this a lot when I was a kid), but EVOLUTION stands as an entertaining guilty pleasure.

Grade: B-

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