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‘Ghostbusters II’ At 25, And 10 Other Sequels That Stalled & Killed Their Franchises

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist June 11, 2014 at 3:45PM

30 years ago last week, “Ghostbusters” hit our screens. It was an anniversary feted by many, (ourselves included, check out our nostalgia trip back to summer 1984), with articles, celebrations, appreciations, oral histories and even the announcement of a forthcoming theatrical re-release all timed to capitalize on the film’s now-classic status. By contrast, the 25th anniversary of “Ghostbusters II,” which happens this week, comes upon us largely unheralded, with perhaps just a far-off slow clap and an internet tumbleweed or two to mark the occasion. Safe to say the sequel is not quite as beloved as the original.
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Fletch Lives

Fletch Lives” (1989)
Everything about the Michael Ritchie-directed 1985 comedy “Fletch” kinda rules. As the investigative newspaper reporter, Irwin M. Fletcher, Chevy Chase nails the irreverent character with a penchant for disguises, bizarre aliases and all kinds of wacky schemes. And that synthy soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer kills. Adapted by Andrew Bergman, ( he co-wrote “Blazing Saddles” and was dubbed "The Unknown King of Comedy" by New York magazine in 1985), the sharp writing is full of terrific quips and catch-them-before-they’re-gone sly sarcastic digs. But most of that is absent in the four-years-later sequel, “Fletch Lives.” Or rather, it’s all trotted out again, but feels far, far less inspired. Directed by Ritchie again, but written by Leon Capetanos (good credits that include "Moscow on the Hudson," "Moon Over Parador" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"), in “Fletch Lives,” the L.A. Lakers-loving reporter is thrown into a fish-out-of-water story when he inherits his late aunt’s mansion in the hillbilly-esque South of Louisiana. Racism, sexism and politically incorrect stereotypes were basically the bread and butter of “Fletch,” and they were funny too, but in the mostly bland sequel they began to curdle unpleasantly south of the Mason Dixon line (though Cleavon Little, who also was a self-aware racial punching bag in “Blazing Saddles,” does some similarly amusing self-reflexive work here too). The movie unfolds with a mystery and conspiracy; a thread that Fletch must pull on, but the plot (revolving around toxic waste) is so ill-conceived and convoluted, you just don’t care. Co-starring Julianne Phillips, Hal Holbrook and Randall "Tex" Cobb, “Fletch Lives” isn’t terrible per se, but it’s pedestrian enough to have killed the franchise almost immediately upon release (doing about $20 million less than the original). Kevin Smith unsuccessfully tried to mount the prequel “Fletch Won” for several years during his heyday, but that fortunately never came to pass. But Hollywood will never give up on a potential property so Warner Bros. and Jason Sudekis are working on a reboot as we speak.

Sex and the City 2

Sex and the City 2” (2010)
The temptation, when something as putrid as Michael Patrick King’s “Sex and the City 2” comes out, is to harken back with rose-tinted glasses to the first installment, but even the first film showed an absolutely baffling lack of all the things that had made the show so surprisingly good. The snappy writing and acerbic, self-aware wit was gone in favor of a supremely self-satisfied story of an outrageously self-absorbed, entitled woman learning the valuable, relatable lesson that nabbing the millionaire husband who adores you is more important than having a wedding in a Vivienne Westwood dress that she gave you because you looked so nice in it on your Vogue shoot. Take those issues and multiply them by a hundred, add an unhealthy dose of shrill and you get “Sex and the City 2” which manages to not only be degrading to its characters (who if they were rolled into one could maybe form a real human, but here are reduced to cartoon figures), it throws in some casual racism and a tone-deaf lack of awareness of economic reality for good measure. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda go to Dubai to wear a succession of increasingly ridiculous outfits and have a series of empty-headed “adventures” including: kissing a man not one’s boring millionaire dreamboat husband; wondering if one’s husband is attracted to the nanny; behaving lewdly in a Muslim country and something something career something respectively (Miranda—sooo boring). Which quandaries are solved by: Big forgives her; the Nanny's a lesbian; they all leave the country and Miranda gets a new job...zzzzz. The film did make a lot of money ($305m, off a $95m production budget), but was far more reliant on overseas income than the original, and domestically was seen as enough of a damp squib that, coupled with the universally dire reviews, as yet ‘SATC 3’ has not come to pass. We pray to the good lord Manolo it stays that way.

Gremlins II

Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990)
While it was a bona fide flop coming six years after the bona fide hit of the original “Gremlins,” this writer is decidedly in the “‘Gremlins 2’ got a raw deal” camp. It’s nowhere near as good as the original, and its overarching narrative, about the titular creatures getting loose in a futuristic skyscraper owned by a Trump-esque developer, is less a storyline than an excuse for a series of skits, but that structure itself has its charms, especially when some of those skits are so self-aware and, like the lil critters themselves, so mischievously nasty. And no, there’s nothing as iconic or oddly transgressive as Phoebe Cates’ brilliant “and that’s when I found out there was no Santa Claus” story (indeed the humans, this time out, apart maybe from Christopher Lee, are all pretty useless) but there is a “Marathon Man” parody, along with references to everything from “Rambo” to “The Phantom of the Opera” plus a fairly ingenious animated prologue in which Daffy Duck tries to usurp Bugs Bunny’s status as the Warner Bros mascot. But the grotesque sketch-show feel, along with the PG-13 rating that its parent film had spawned (read our analysis of Spielberg, Dante and the birth of the PG-13 rating here) meant it missed big time with audiences, failing to make back its $50m budget domestically, as contrasted with “Gremlins” $153m take from its $11m budget. But if anything it feels like its arch self-awareness was really a little ahead of its time, as of all the films “Gremlins 2” satirized, it was most cutting about “Gremlins,” even referring to the merchandising opportunities that the film represented, and featuring Leonard Maltin, who had so disliked it, in a cameo spot where he gets attacked by sneering gremlins and apparently strangled with a loop of celluloid. Director Joe Dante had been given full creative control this time out, and the result may have burned the studio to the tune of them never going back to this well again, but it’s a film that well deserves reevaluation now, if only for its recreation of the frozen yogurt craze of the early ‘90s.

Escape from LA

“Escape from LA” (1996)
The news last year that superproducer Joel Silver had optioned the rights to make a potential trilogy rebooting the “Escape From New York” franchise was mildly surprising, not least because the last go-round at the property, 1996’s sequel, was a notorious dud that flopped with critics, appalled fans of the original, and made roughly half its production budget of $50m back at the box office. But then also maybe not so surprising, because 17 years had elapsed since “Escape From LA,” which in turn had only come together 15 years after ‘New York,’ and so memories here appear to be around about a decade and a half long. But if everyone’s forgotten about ‘LA,’ we’re here to remind you: it really wasn’t very good, feeling like director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell reteamed just for the hell, and potential $$$, of it rather than because they had anything new or particularly incisive to say. Really, it’s just a bigger-budgeted, pointlessly inflated retread of ground covered 15 years before (when it had a lot more relevance) that swaps the grit and nastiness of the original (which, let’s be honest, hasn’t aged particularly well itself) for a kind of self-aware mockery which really only serves to show how empty the whole endeavor is. Russell verges on self-parody in his iconic role as Snake Plissken and while here and there there are inspired touches (we do like that Peter Fonda plays a radioactive surfer, and there are some mild jabs at the vacuousness of West Coast culture) overall its awareness of its own disposability can’t save it from being so disposable. And that quality would also have made it difficult to see where a third entry would come from, if the box office had even close to warranted it: “Escape from Miami/Chicago/Omaha” or whatever would have had little to work with that hadn’t already been essentially sabotaged by ‘LA.’ We presume if Silver’s reboot does come about, it will bypass the campy tone of the sequel and head straight back into the tonal grime of the original which will probably be all for the best, and we can take some heart that it’s not this version of the reboot that heart-sinking names like Len Wiseman, Brett Ratner and Breck Eisner had been suggested for in the past.

This article is related to: Features, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 3, Feature, Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Ivan Fund, Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters 2


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