Second Union

Second Union

FRANCHISE REWIND: Ghostbusters II (1989)

Ghostbusters II, 1989 (Bill Murray/Dan Aykroyd/Harold Ramis) Columbia Pictures

“You know, I’m a voter. Aren’t you supposed to lie to me and kiss my butt?”

So, I actually saw this movie in the theater. It was cold. I remember it being cold, like steam from my mouth cold, and there were no lines. It was dark. The end of 1989 in New York City was brutal and filthy. New York City was in a really terrible place. Crime had skyrocketed and the homeless situation was out of control. No snow yet, but there very rarely is in December. I know the movie came out in the summer, but Ghostbusters II had an inexplicably long life in theaters.

Because the movie was released in 1989, it seemed to have been forgotten, but it still made a ton of money. Maybe it was a re-release to coincide with the movie’s “New Year” motif. We had serious problems in 1989 so we didn’t get to the movies regularly. I distinctly remember a lack of excitement and anticipation for this Ghostbusters sequel, and later I read a rather lengthy article in Rolling Stone noting the misery of each and every player attached to the project.

The only person (outside of Columbia Pictures’ lower-level studio executives) who wanted to make this movie was Ivan Reitman. He wanted to get the project together a couple of years before, but there was an Englishman in charge of Columbia at the time named David Puttnam, who wanted to finance more art films and fewer franchise monsters. He bought a concept known as Vibes specifically as a vehicle for Dan Aykroyd and Cyndi Lauper.

Aykroyd didn’t get along with Lauper and passed, and this resulted in a public feud between him and Puttnam. Jeff Goldblum was hired in his stead. The movie flopped when it was eventually released in 1988. Puttnam was shown the door a year earlier and Dawn Steel replaced him, and her first job was to get the Ghostbusters band back together. Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd started writing, but the hardest part was getting Bill Murray interested. He had recently returned to pictures from a four-year semi-hiatus with Scrooged.

It turned into a money situation. Murray, Reitman, Ramis, and Aykroyd waved enormous salaries for profit participation in order to keep the budget down, and it looked like Columbia hoodwinked the cast with the time-honored practice of “Hollywood accounting.” The movie is nothing to write home about. It’s a standard sequel, with another standard supernatural bad guy, but this time (as I had noted in my Ghostbusters review) we have a backstory that is not interesting, not extraordinary on its own.

The silliness has been upped and becomes goofy. Aykroyd and Ramis took Ghostbusters seriously, but here we can see they’ve gone completely wacky with “mood slime” and bad vibes. The first movie was already goofy, but it was goofy from the perspective of the observer. It wasn’t innately goofy within the context of the characters and their motivations. There’s almost a hard reset from the events of the first movie. Ghostbusters (the business) is no more.

Egon has gone back to academia. Ray runs an occult store. Venkman is the host of a public access show about the supernatural. He and Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) have broken up. She immediately hooked up with someone else and had that person’s baby, a little butterball named Oscar. So, we’re back to square one, and we have to go through the whole rigmarole of Murray courting her again—it’s agonizing at this point. When it seems a powerful supernatural force has designs on the baby Oscar, Dana takes her problems to Egon and Ray, bypassing Venkman altogether.

There may be a wholly separate problem (I don’t quite gather how they’re connected) with a river of hostile slime that flows under Manhattan (I guess Brooklyn and Queens are safe, though you’d never know) that causes New Yorkers to be mean. I don’t think we ever needed an excuse, but okay, I’ll go along with it. The reason New Yorkers are so mean (they aren’t, by the way—New Yorkers are the nicest people I’ve ever known, and I’ve lived in many different places) is because of a river of evil slime. Sure!

The supernatural force (identified as Vigo, the Scourge of Carpathia and all-around unpleasant guy) wants to inhabit the body of baby Oscar (simply for convenience, I’m guessing) and bring about the end times, or something. I’ve never understood the motivations of evil spirits, but that’s none of my business. The Ghostbusters kill two birds with one stone.

They coat (yuck!) the Statue of Liberty with positively charged good vibes slime and send Vigo back to Hell, or trapped inside a painting, I don’t know which, and frankly this ending makes no sense. Tell the people! It is fun for about the first twenty minutes of the movie getting the band back together, but the rest of it is just a benign, lifeless retread of the first movie. At least the one-liners still work.

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