Producers: Gail Berman, Conrad Vernon, Danielle Sterling and Alison O’Brien Director: Greg Tiernen and Conrad Vernon Screenplay: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen and Susanna Fogel Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Javon Walton, Bette Midler, Conrad Vernon, Snoop Dogg, Bill Hader and Wallace Shawn Distributor: United Artists
When Charles Addams’ lovably weird family returned to the big screen—this time in animated form—in 2019, their ghoulish reappearance was reason enough to embrace the lovingly rendered film, even if the plot surrounding them was second-rate. “The Addams Family 2” looks just as good as its predecessor, and its spotlight on daughter Wednesday (voiced in suitably deadpan tones by Chloë Grace Moretz) is a wise choice. But overall the script, credited to four writers, is a surprisingly anemic affair that relies overmuch on frantic action, potty humor and irritating musical numbers.
What sets the road trip plot in motion is Wednesday’s contribution to her school science fair, where her experiment transferring the traits of her intelligent pet octopus into her blindingly stupid Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) might not win her first prize—she’s appalled that everyone just gets a “participation” trophy—but catches the eye of brilliant inventor Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader), who appears via hologram. Soon after a goofy lawyer (Wallace Shawn) shows up suggesting that Wednesday might not actually be the child of Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) and the sister of buffoonish bomb-happy Pugsley (Javon Walton). And a flashback to Fester visiting her in the hospital newborn ward and trying to cheer up the wailing babies by literally juggling them from crib to crib suggests that she might indeed have been switched with another kid.
That explains Gomez’s decision to take a cross-country trip in a hearse-like camper, with the family butler Lurch (Conrad Vernon) and disembodied hand Thing coming along; they’ll also pick up hirsute Cousin Itt (Snoop Dog) along the way, while Granny (Bette Midler) stays behind to mind the house—though she has a wild party instead. The journey will bring the family closer, and Wednesday’s doubts about her parentage will evaporate. It doesn’t work out that way, of course
The episodic stop-by-stop road narrative yields surprisingly few laughs, though there are a few throwaway moments that bring a smile (a road sign, for example, pointing travelers to destinations like “Haddonfield” and “The Overlook Hotel,” prompting Morticia to observe that they’re all very tempting places to visit). Otherwise, though, only Wednesday’s perpetually grim attitude makes gags like a sand-guillotine or a “Miss Jalapeno” contest tolerable, and she isn’t around to rescue a dance scene at a biker bar, even if Lurch incongruously provides the accompaniment. Pugsley’s destruction of the Grand Canyon is itself a bomb, and Fester’s gradual transformation into an octopus—complete with embarrassing ink spills—doesn’t add much.
Wednesday goes off by herself to find the California home of the man she’s determined is her real biological father—Dr. Strange (no relation to Benedict Cumberbatch). It’s in his lab that the script’s real inspiration comes to the fore, and it’s none other than that old standby, “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” played here for both laughs and action. The rest of the Addams brood shows up in pursuit of her, and a big, splashy but unfortunately dull confrontation occurs. Wednesday makes the right choices, and family unity is restored.
Even with the residual affection one has for these characters and animation that skillfully transfers Addams’ originals into full-screen format, as well as solid voice acting (though Hader and Shawn are wasted while Midler barely gets a cameo), “Addams Family 2” doesn’t make the grade. More ooky than funny, it might please the small fry more than grown-ups, but not by much.