(On DVD, August 2017) Normally, I’m not too happy to report that a sequel is “more of the same,” but given my enthusiasm for 1990’s The Addams Family, I’m almost overjoyed to say that this sequel is, indeed, more of the same. The plot is just different enough to be interesting (as Fester is seduced by a gold-digging, husband-killing new character) but the atmosphere of the first film remains largely the same. Under the macabre humour lies genuine family love (although some early segments do push the limits of sibling rivalry), and the jokes are best when they’re unexpected. (I laughed far more than I ought to have at a simple “I respect that” or “Wait”) The strengths of the two Addams Family movies are the set pieces more than the plot, and this one does have one of the most honest depiction of Thanksgiving put on film, as well as a hilariously juvenile justification (with slides!) from the antagonist. Director Barry Sonnefeld has made one of his good movies here (the rest of his career … hit-and-miss), but much of the credit goes to the actors themselves. Raul Julia is fantastic as Gomez, Anjelica Huston is just as good as Morticia (while her impassible giving-birth scene is great, it took me far too long to notice the lighting effect on her eyes, but then it became hilarious to see it used in all circumstances), Christina Ricci shines as Wednesday and Joan Cusak holds up as Debbie. This sequel clicks in the same ways the original did, and yet still feels fresh enough to avoid accusations of re-threading. At this point, don’t bother seeing the first film if you don’t have Addams Family Values nearby, ready to be watched.
(On DVD, July 2017) There are times when you watch an older movie and it’s so good that you wonder why you haven’t seen it before. I’ll be the first to admit that The Adams Family isn’t a perfect film: As a macabre-themed comedy, it’s not built around a plot as much as gags and atmosphere, so it’s likely to be the kind of film that you find wonderful from beginning to end … or not. As far as I’m concerned, The Adams Family hits the right buttons in the right order. From the opening credit sequence (which features a font similar to Men in Black, also directed by Barry Sonnenfeld), it’s a ride through a darkly funny imagination. But there’s more than black comedy in play here: The appeal of The Addams Family isn’t necessarily in the macabre stuff as much as the solid family unit being demonstrated through the jokes. The lustful relationship between Morticia and Gomez is straight-up #relationshipgoals idyllic, and the film show over and over again that the Addams clan can rely on itself to take care of outsiders. And while the plot is simple, there’s some structural genius in the way it brings in an outsider to show what’s happening in that family, and to allow the intruder to be captured by the family’s charm. Otherwise, the jokes aren’t always obvious and even when they are, their delivery is perfect. (I laughed far too much at “Are they made from real Girl Scouts?”) The Addams Family does have the advantage of relying on an ensemble cast of terrific actors ideally suited to their role. Anjelica Huston has a career-best role as Morticia Adams, perfectly spooky and sexy at once. Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd both get to ham it up as brothers, while Christina Ricci got her breakout role here as Wednesday Addams. The stable of characters works well, but the production design and loopy humour is what sets this film apart. This delight-a-minute visual extravaganza may not work on everyone else equally, but as far as I’m concerned, The Addams Family is a classic that I should have seen much earlier.
(On Cable TV, March 2013) Nobody was asking for a third Men in Black installment after the disaster that was 2002’s second film, but here we are: Will Smith wants another box-office hit, and this is the best franchise he’s got. To be fair, the Men in Black concept is still strong: it’s a great framework through which to combine humor, gadgets, action, special effects and the occasional bit of awe at the strangeness of the universe. When it clicks, Men in Black 3 is able to touch upon all of those strengths. Alas, it doesn’t always do so, and whatever strong points it has often seem accidental thanks to the ego of a few of the people involved. Let’s start with elements of the premise, which sees both lead characters reprise the same character dynamics despite a ten-year gap: Will Smith is still playing his character (heck, his entire screen persona) as a mid-twenties smart-ass, which wears increasingly thin for someone in his mid-forties. Does it make sense that his character (still single) should still have the same relationship with his job partner a decade later? Who knows: at least it sets up a laborious series of scenes all reminding us that Tommy Lee Jones’ character is emotionless. After a surprisingly gory opening sequence and some obnoxious flaying around, Men in Black 3 finally hits its stride when it sends its protagonist back in time: Milking the era for a few Mad-Men-in-Black jokes, it also has fun reconceptualising the MIB agency in an earlier time. Josh Brolin makes for a droll younger Tommy Lee Jones, while some of the considerations surrounding the improbability of even the most mundane events are good for a bit of sci-fi pop-philosophy. The time-traveling elements are used in a manner that is both ingenious and nonsensical (don’t be surprised if your suspension of disbelief snaps at a crucial junction, because it really doesn’t make sense even with a neuralizer.) It doesn’t help that Barry Sonnenfeld is at his usual inconsistent best: While he can handle comic set-pieces and great visuals with a deft touch, he’s all-too-often likely to include head-scratching diversions and meaningless details good only for making us wonder why. Tallying the pluses against the minuses, we end up with a film that’s generally better than its predecessor, with enough high points (and an absence of truly bad points) to make it worth a look. It’s not a complete success, but it’s quite a bit better than anyone was expecting given the film’s troubled production history and decade-distant awful predecessor. See it as a buffet, and take only the parts that you like.