Film reviews: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire | Road House | Robot Dreams

The plot of the latest film in the Ghostbusters franchise is so convoluted as to be almost incomprehensible, writes Alistair Harkness

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (12A) **

Road House (15) **

Robot Dreams (PG) ****

It’s been 40 years since the release of the original Ghostbusters. Though it didn’t really take as a franchise back then, its revival has become one of the more depressing examples of the extent to which contemporary Hollywood is now haunted by Gen X nostalgia. Exhibit A? 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which felt like a grim joke on us all given the series’ paranormal premise and the fact that even death proved no barrier to corralling the first film’s deceased co-writer and co-star Harold Ramis into providing a beyond-the-grave cameo as the ghost of Egon Spengler.

That film, directed by Jason “son of Ivan” Reitman, was also notable for utilising Stranger Things’ recent fetishisation of Ghostbusters to erase 2016’s unfairly maligned all-female reboot from the franchise timeline in an effort to attract a new generation of viewers weaned on the aforementioned Netflix hit. Cannily casting Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard as one of Egon Spengler’s grandchildren and presenting the events of the first film in the form of archival news clips on YouTube, it didn’t just have its cake and eat it, it vomited it up so it could have it and eat it all over again.

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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire picks up where that film left off, with the next-generation Spengler clan now fully fledged Ghostbusters and operating out of New York City (in addition to Wolfhard, Carrie Coon returns as his mum, Mckenna Grace as his younger sister and Paul Rudd as their mother’s boyfriend Gary). The demands of fan service means they’re also living in the decrepit fire station that served as Ghostbusters HQ in the first film, with the movie even providing a prologue that weaves the building’s history into an origins story for the film’s civilisation-threatening supernatural MacGuffin – a long-dormant spectral force that terrorises the living by freezing them to death.

The ensuing plot is so convoluted as to be almost incomprehensible, but it takes shape mostly around Mckenna Grace’s Phoebe, whose “science girl” character arc has been expanded this time to half-heartedly incorporate a queer identity so chastely encoded that not only is the girl she falls for a ghost (she’s played by Emily Alyn Lind), but she’s denied any contact with her, even when the plot goes to the effort of finding a way to let her temporarily die so they can exist on the same astral plane.


Elsewhere original Ghostbusters stars Dan Ackroyd and Ernie Hudson do most of the fan-service heavy lifting, with the former teaming up with Wolfhard to track down the ancient source of the coming calamity and the latter’s Winstone Zedmore now a philanthropist secretly funding a paranormal research facility. Bill Murray pops up late on with the air of a veteran celebrity going through the motions to pocket an exorbitant appearance fee.

Co-writer/director Gil Kenan slavishly recreates the world of the first film, but it’s a world that no longer has any pretence of a fourth wall, a world where Rudd’s character can groaningly quote the lyrics to Ray Parker Jr’s theme song because that theme song is now another artefact that exists within the characters’ reality as well as ours – there to provide yet more food for this ouroboros franchise to chomp on.

From one 1980s throwback to another. Putting the “boot” into “reboot”, Road House sees a ripped Jake Gyllenhaal reviving an early action vehicle for his Donnie Darko co-star Patrick Swayze with this bone-crunching tale of a nightclub bouncer hired to clean up a Florida bar overrun by violent biker gangs intent on forcing its owner to sell up. Although the original had a pulpy exuberance, it hasn’t aged well, so the news that The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman was making this suggested action aficionados might be in for a good time. Alas, while there’s fun to be had in the early scenes of Gyllenhaal’s ex-MMA fighter Dalton arriving in town like a modern day equivalent of Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider, it gets pretty silly pretty quickly, its descent into daftness traceable to the arrival on screen of real-life MMA star Connor McGregor, here playing a psychopathic “fixer” and so devoid of acting talent he can’t even make his genuine Irish accent sound plausible. Gyllenhaal has clearly put the work in, but while Liman shoots the fight scenes with a mercury-like speed that gives the film an early jolt of energy, it soon dissipates.

Do androids dream of electric sheep, pondered the great sci-fi writer Philip K Dick? Not literally, according to Robot Dreams. In Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger’s delightful, dialogue-free animation, a lonely New York dog buys a robot whose subconscious takes him on much more vivid nocturnal adventures when he’s separated from his canine friend following an ill-advised dip in the ocean on a trip to Coney Island. Forced to leave the too-heavy-to-move Robot rusting in the sand as the beach is closed for the off-season, Dog must endure winter alone, with only memories of their fast-forged friendship and the hope of a possible reconciliation to get him through. Robot’s own yearning for a reconciliation, meanwhile, takes the form of multiple fantasies in which Berger – adapting Sara Varon’s graphic novel of the same name – interrogates the nature of friendship in imaginative and increasingly philosophical ways, leading to a finale that’s as joyful as it is profound. The result is a lovely family film that owes more to Studio Ghibli than Disney.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is in cinemas from 22 March; Road House streams on Prime Video from 21 March; Robot Dreams is in cinemas and available on demand from Curzon Home Cinema from 22 March