Due respect and sincere condolences upon the passing of producer-director Ivan Reitman, who was 75. This is a huge boomer death — one that will make a lot of people feel anxious and shaken, and prompt them to take a deep breath and wonder what might be around the corner.
Reitman’s hottest period was between the late ’70s and the late ’90s, and his biggest film, of course, was the original Ghostbusters (’84), which most of the world adored and which I hated from the get-go. And I really, really hated Ghostbusters II.
Reitman made his first big mark as the producer of National Lampoon’s Animal House (’78), which exploded all over — it was the first time the SNL brand (and particularly John Belushi) connected massively in movie theatres.
Reitman was first, last and always a director and producer of mainstream popular entertainments. He always sought to please, his stuff was always audience-friendly, and his instincts were not absurdly anti-highbrow but they were certainly tidy and middle-class. He was a smooth operator (especially from the mid ’80s on) and he knew how to coax and encourage good comic performances, but he never, ever went over any audience member’s head.
Which Reitman-directed films do I think were exceptionally fine or which I at least really liked (i.e., laughed with) and went “wow, that was really pleasurable and a profound home run”? Answer: None.
But early on Reitman made two dopey, infectious comedies of immaturity, Meatballs (’79) and Stripes (’81)…films that had a cool Bill Murray spirit…a stoner feeling, a fuck-it vibe. I was also satisfied by the three Arnold Schwarzenegger films — Twins, Kindergarten Cop and Junior. And I was half-okay with Dave, Father’s Day and Draft Day.
Can anyone name a line of dialogue from a Reitman film that has lived on for decades? I’ve just thought of one from Stripes — Warren Oates saying “lighten up, Francis.”
Reitman knew exactly how to make successful “Ivan Reitman films” but he never directed or produced a truly brilliant or profound knockout, or an emotional powerhouse in the vein of, say, Heaven Can Wait or Groundhog Day or Planes, Trains & Automobiles or As Good as It Gets or Broadcast News.
Okay, I take that back — Up In The Air (’09), which his director-writer son Jason did an excellent job with and which Reitman Sr. produced, was in that elite fraternity.
Reitman’s instincts were kind of Ron Howard-ish, only a bit more anarchic or semi-experimental or stir-fried. He wasn’t really a “heart” guy (not like Howard or Jim Brooks or even John Hughes) except in the case of Junior, a comedy about a guy who gets pregnant.
I’ll say more tomorrow and I’m sure I’ll modify what I’ve just written later this evening. I’m very sorry about Reitman’s passing; 75 isn’t that old.
— Erik Childress (@EriktheMovieman) February 14, 2022