Charles Addams’ oft-revived characters get the CG treatment from directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon.
A movie so bland and forgettable it hardly merits a groan from the Frankenstein-like butler called Lurch, The Addams Family strongly suggests that directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon deserve little credit for 2016’s Sausage Party, the hit they directed for writers/producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Even an ounce of that film’s unpredictable edge (if not its raunchiness) would be welcome here, in what is, after all, a story relying on subversion of conventional values. Decades of commercial success and a famously infectious theme song suggest some attention will be paid to this dud, but no fan of cartoonist Charles Addams will be pleased — nor will those who grew fond of his characters via the 1960s TV show or Barry Sonnenfeld’s big-screen adaptations.
The film’s most immediate problem is its character design, which proves that slavish imitation is not always the best path when adapting material from one medium to another. The 3D-rendered characters here do look much like Addams’ original drawings — if, that is, you sculpted those drawings into plastic dolls. But those figures’ shiny texture and their movement are a poor evocation of the sickly ghouls America first met in 1930s New Yorker cartoons. The most successful of the pic’s designs is the one that resembles his 2D counterpart the least: Lurch, who is bulbous and hulking, not stiffly stoic as in earlier incarnations.
We meet Lurch as he’s being hit by a getaway car. In the film’s rushed origin-story preface, we see the wedding of Gomez and Morticia Addams (voiced by Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron), in which the nuptials revolve around an ancient ritual: Bride and groom put a lime in a coconut and drink it al— wait, what? What does a 1971 Harry Nilsson song have to do with the sacred union between a man and a woman who long to make each other unhappy for the rest of their lives? Local townspeople don’t seem to like this non-sequitur, either: They show up with pitchforks and torches to chase off the creepy newlyweds, who race into the night. While seeking safety, they hit a strait-jacketed creature (Lurch) with their car. They realize he’s an escapee from a creepy, abandoned mental hospital up on a hill — a place they instantly decide to call home.
(Wait, if the mental hospital was abandoned, how were there any patients left to escape? Shut up, kid — watch your dumb cartoon.)
Thirteen years later, the Addamses have two children: a chubby pyromaniac boy named Pugsley (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) and his homicidal older sister Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz, the only actor here whose performance rivals those in earlier Addams adaptations). Pugsley is hitting rite-of-passage age: He’s supposed to perform a “sabre mazurka,” a demonstration of his mastery of swordplay, and weird relatives from all over the world are coming to attend the bar mitzvah-like event.
That’s a problem for the nearby town of Assimilation, a manufactured community run by design-TV celebrity Margaux Needler (Allison Janney). Needler has just built a development full of cookie-cutter houses and needs to sell them immediately or go bankrupt. Somehow, she never realized that the haze-shrouded hill right outside town was home to neighbors who would totally wreck her town’s vibe. When the squares and misfits finally meet, Needler must try to sell Morticia and Gomez on the kind of domestic makeover she does every week on TV. Good luck with that.
Meanwhile, Wednesday has grown intrigued by the local junior high and its rituals in which girls team up to make other girls sad. She befriends Needler’s daughter Parker (Eighth Grade’s breakout Elsie Fisher, who might wish Bo Burnham could have written her material here as well) and decides to protect the unpopular kid from her mean classmates.
That storyline has promise, but Matt Lieberman’s nearly laugh-free script prefers to rehash Charles Addams’ old one-liners or offer terrible updates. For instance: When Morticia uses thousands of spiders to create a temporary bridge across a chasm, she tells her guest, “We call this surfing the web”; and the disembodied hand called Thing wears a wristwatch on which an eyeball occasionally appears. (Get it? It’s an eyeWatch!! Which would be unfunny even if that was what Apple really called its smart-watches.)
Instead of having fun with what a rebellious adolescence means in a household that’s all about nonconformity, Lieberman quickly returns to a story as predictable as all those identical houses Needler is hawking. Fortunately, the conflict between townsfolk and our heroes plays out quickly, and should take even less time to forget.
Production companies: Jackal, Cinesite
Distributor: United Artists
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Allison Janney, Elsie Fisher
Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Screenwriter: Matt Lieberman
Producers: Gail Berman, Alex Schwartz, Alison O’Brien
Editors: Kevin Pavlovic, David Ian Salter
Composers: Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna
Casting directors: Ruth Lambert, Robert McGee
Rated PG, 86 minutes