June 16th, 1989
Nutshell: Five years after saving the universe from the wrath of Gozer, only to have their heroism rewarded with lawsuits and the dissolution of their company, the Ghostbusters are forced to reunite when a new threat and a river of psychoreactive slime rise up to destroy New York City.
1989: It was the summer of the sequel, with Indiana Jones, Daniel LaRusso, Riggs and Murtaugh, Freddy Krueger, Captain Kirk, Jason Voorhees, and even James Bond returning to the big screen to squeeze just a little more coin out of the forgiving faithful. Yet, out of all the number twos and threes (even fives and eights), “Ghostbusters II” was the miracle. It was the production that forever seemed one whispered passive aggressive comment away from falling to pieces. Of course, these were the spare pre-internet days of backstage Hollywood confession, where solid information had to be earned through bookstore research and careful television observation. All that study, from 1984 to 1988, basically pointed to a lack of willingness throughout the cast and crew to triumphantly join together and bang out a “Ghostbusters” sequel. For shame!
When a follow-up was finally produced five long years after the release of the first film, expectations were sky high across the nation and I wasn’t immune to the giddy anticipation. Along with every teen boy who had access to a sawbuck and passable transportation, I sprinted to see “Ghostbusters II” the moment it opened, and guess what? I adored it. In fact, I swore at the time that the sequel was “funnier” than the original. Blasphemy!
The film had oodles of gurgling ectoplasm, wisecracking Bill Murray doing his damndest to force the script into flexible funny positions (giggle yoga), a convincingly weirdo villain in the painting-imprisoned Vigo the Carpathian, a cameo from Slimer, and a shameless plug for the NES Advantage game controller. What more could a kid ask for? I was caught in the sticky web of hype (or what passed for hype back in the day with monthly magazines like Premiere), and I stumbled out of the theater charged up and delighted with the return of these wonderful heroes and their proton-blastin’ adventures.
2009: Ok. Deep breath. Perhaps “Ghostbusters II” doesn’t quite ring with the same blockbuster sonority as its beloved forefather. Maybe I got a little carried away 20 years ago. Nevertheless, I still find the feature to be tremendous event film escapism, uncovering plenty of agreeable nonsense to develop within the larger “Ghostbusters” universe. It’s a sincerely amusing movie, warmly energized to give fans a steamy second helping of the good stuff.
Sure, “Ghostbusters II” rehashes much of the plot from the original film, following the same structure to maintain a profitable familiarity. It doesn’t bother me. Staring down a bloated budget and more egos to pacify, “Ghostbusters II” is actually the superior ensemble piece; the imaginative screenplay takes special care to include all the characters in on the action without tripping itself up. Perhaps the freshness is gone, along with a diamond Stay Puft Marshmallow Man moment, but “Ghostbusters II” boasts imaginative special effects and a gutsy, depressive opening to contrast the celebratory antics from 1984. Bringing in Dana Barrett’s baby, Oscar, also adds some unexpected spirit to the film, offering Bill Murray wide open country to improv anywhere he desires with the kid. The clowning results in this, the finest joke of 1989:
“Ghostbusters II” has always suffered from a lousy reputation, which I feel is undeserved. My only real complaint about the movie is found in the third act. Director Ivan Reitman hits too many setback beats for the action to progress comfortably, including a ridiculous bit where the Ghostbusters are committed to an insane asylum by mayoral aide Jack Hardemeyer (played by…wait for it…the unfortunately omnipresent Kurt Fuller!). The instinctual ease of “Ghostbusters,” the sheer joy of discovery, is not present for the follow-up. It leaves the picture somewhat pokey toward the end, though the remote control Statue of Liberty bit (fueled by glops of happy slime and the music of Jackie Wilson) adequately wipes away the darkness.
Last week on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” an aged Harold Ramis, doing press for the 25th anniversary of “Ghostbusters,” mockingly questioned why nobody was celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Ghostbusters II.” Well, look no further, Egon. I remain a loyal fan of this needlessly slighted picture. It’s aged well, especially now with the franchise wheels spinning furiously again, promising further adventures for the summer of 2011.
Nutshell: Eccentric literary agent Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) is bitten by a seductive vampire (Jennifer Beals), turning his life into a nightmare of hysteria, with the majority of his bile focused on hapless secretary Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso).
1989: These days, Nicolas Cage is…Nicolas Cage. Two decades ago, Cage was one of the most peculiar, idiosyncratic actors around, constantly dreaming up pools of thespian excess to splash around in, often under the watch of the era’s finest directing visionaries. “Vampire’s Kiss” represents Cage at his most unhinged and perhaps professionally bored, hitting an unreal pitch of abstract performing here that he’s never matched. While I ended up seeing “Kiss” on VHS years after its theatrical release, Cage’s onscreen antics here were already cineaste legend during 1989, urged on by the actor’s hesitant onscreen digestion of a live cockroach to communicate Peter’s swan dive into vampiric psychosis. I didn’t even need to see “Vampire’s Kiss” to fully understand its outlandish, spazzy qualities. The media did all the work for me.
2009: Um, yeah…“Vampire’s Kiss” is pretty awful stuff. The picture is entirely held together by Cage’s berserk performance, not clever black comedy touches or endearing insanity as perhaps intended. It’s a 100-minute-long piece of performance art masquerading as a moody, silly indie switchblade. It rarely impresses, succumbing to overwhelmingly sluggish filmmaking decisions and a permissive attitude that robs the picture of its…well…bite.
Assuming an unhinged yuppie appearance and slapping on a buttery accent of indeterminable origin, Nicolas Cage is exhausting to watch in “Kiss,” and that’s not a compliment. Gathering every last birth order instinct to ham it up for the camera and forming a Cyclops-like optic blast of overacting, Cage stomps around the picture unchallenged, straining to depict Loew’s downward spiral into madness with flashy expressionistic touches. I won’t deny an initial devilish pleasure watching Cage’s screen rampage years ago, but a fresh visit with this film brought me only a headache. The actor’s capacity for sustained anarchy is outstanding, but the affectations are impossible to endure for more than a few moments. “Kiss” hopes to engage by balancing on a high wire of puzzling surrealism, but the squishy psychological qualities of this demonic farce frequently slip out of director Robert Bierman’s feeble grasp.
The film goes for sensuality, horror, comedy, and satire and fails to achieve any of its goals, limping its way to an unconvincing nook of diseased serenity that’s pretty much a bicycle built for one. “Kiss” is a lump of shapeless obvious in an empty artistic bowl, and I applaud those who are able to derive any meaning or pleasure out of this muck. In fact, I envy them. For yuppie satire and freewheeling murderous yuks, I’ll side with the startlingly similar, equally blood-soaked romp, “American Psycho”
There were times during the viewing of this film when I muttered to myself unconvincingly, “Oh, I suppose that’s clever.” There were more times during the viewing of this film where I wanted to push my television out of the nearest window in a vain effort to show the movie who’s boss. It seemed the only possible way to stop Cage’s stratospheric overacting.
Coming next week…
The Dark Knight Begins!
And those kids? Well honey, they do indeed get small.