Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Addams Family Values

For some reason, it is almost impossible to make a good movie out of a classic television show.  Bewitched, The Flinstones, and Dragnet all made it to the big screen, but none of them were very good.  Don't even get me started on Cedric the Entertainer's Honeymooners debacle.  The Addams Family is the only show to truly make a successful leap from the small to the big screen (okay, Mission: Impossible did a good job, too).  Having overcome that first hurdle with The Addams Family, Addams Family Values feels like the cast and crew performed with a weight lifted from them.  Gone are a lot of the zanier moments that stayed true to the original show.  Instead, this movie feels like a logical step forward from the 60s to the 90s.

This movie uses its sequel status quite well.  A lot of sequels have major cast changes that require some explaining, or they take the time to reintroduce the characters for viewers that are unfamiliar with the series.  Here, it is more or less assumed that the viewer knows that the Addams are weird and moves past that to propel the plot.  The story this time around has Fester (Christopher Lloyd) looking for love, only to find serial black widow Debbie (Joan Cusack) looking to marry (and shortly inherit) into the Addams fortune.  Fester is harder to kill than a non-Addams, though, so Debbie has to isolate him from his family.  This devastates his brother Gomez (Raul Julia) and sister-in-law Morticia (Anjelica Huston), especially after they have their new baby, Pubert.  There is a subplot dealing with the older Addams children, Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and her brother Puglsey, being sent to an exceptionally upbeat summer camp, but the real story is about Debbie vs. the Addams Family.

The primary cast from the last movie remains unchanged.  The characters are more well-developed this time around, particularly Wednesday and Fester.  Lloyd benefits the most here because his character had amnesia in the first film; this time around, he's as weird as everyone else from the start.  While the sequel came out only two years after the original, Ricci matured a lot in those two years, which improved her deadpan delivery significantly.  The other established cast members are still exceptionally well cast.  Carol Kane is always fun to see in a movie, especially when she looks like a witch.  Raul Julia had a talent for embracing the ridiculous that was more apparent as Gomez than any of his other roles.  The casting of Anjelica Huston as Morticia was inspired, showing a playfulness that rarely showed in her earlier work.  Even the undemanding role of Lurch was well-played by Carel Struycken.  Even Joan Cusack is enjoyable here; her grating voice is a lot more palatable when she is presented as a murderer.  The supporting cast features some noteworthy appearances, including a young David Krumholtz as a sickly love interest for Wednesday, Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski as camp counselors, while Nathan Lane, Cynthia Nixon, David Hyde Pierce, Peter Graves, and Tony Shalhoub all have bit parts.

Excellent casting aside, I'm not saying that this is a perfect movie.  A lot of the humor is predictable, but it is written and delivered well.  I like that this is a (more or less) family movie with a macabre sense of humor.  It's rare to see so much deadpan sarcasm in a movie primarily aimed at children and teens.  As someone with the mentality of a child or teen, I appreciate that.  A lot of the predictability in this film comes from its limitations.  The Addams' make all sorts of grizzly, creepy allusions to grave robbery, murder, and sex, but they remain allusions.  Would this movie be better if these aspects of the script were more explicit?  Do we really want to see Wednesday kill anyone at summer camp?  Do we want to see Gomez and Morticia in the bedroom?  Do we want to see Fester and Debbie digging up a corpse?  Not really, no, and NO, respectively.  Sadly, the limitations that this movie places on itself to remain (mostly) in the realm of good taste handicap some of its humorous potential.  This is a wise choice, overall, for the film, because it is able to make some occasionally good jokes and fill the rest of the time with largely inoffensive predictable fare.  The deadpan delivery and morbid sensibilities set this apart from almost all modern comedies, and this remains one of the best examples of a television show making the transition to film.

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