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Movie Reviews : Let's Have a Hand for 'Addams Family Values'

November 19, 1993|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The kinetically nutty "Addams Family Values" (citywide) starts out with a full bag of tricks and keeps lobbing them straight at the audience for all of its 93 minutes. It never lets up--director Barry Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Paul Rudnick turn its assaultiveness into a comic style.

With something this scattershot and relatively plotless, it's inevitable that tedium would eventually set in, and it does, about halfway into the spree. But there are still some good laughs--more than in "The Addams Family," where the tedium set in with the credits.

The film begins with Morticia's surprise announcement to Gomez (Raul Julia) that she is pregnant and about to have a baby. (Things happen fast chez Addams.) Their new infant son, dubbed Pubert (and, fittingly, played alternately by twin sisters Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper), comes complete with Gomez's Lothario mustache and jet black hair. His baby bottle is spiked with vodka. (W.C. Fields would approve of this family.)

The rest of the clan is introduced in pungent, nutball cameos. Fester Addams (Christopher Lloyd), looking as fetid as ever, goes in for a little bedtime reading: the self-help guide "Strange Men and the Women Who Avoid Them." The two Addams' children, Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), resentful of Pubert, concoct garish ways of disposing of him via guillotine and pincers. Lurch (Carel Struycken) and Thing (Christopher Hart, or at least his hand) plod and scamper, respectively, through the Addams' cobwebby environs. Granny (Carol Kane, all too briefly) does her potion thing. It's a family in need of a little lightening up.

Joan Cusack's Debbie Jelinsky, a serial murderess with her eyes on Fester's fortune, wedges her way into the gloom by posing as a nanny to the two brats (whom she arranges to pack off to camp). She's the perfect mate for Fester: The more slobbery he gets, the more she coos. Debbie is the real maniac in the bunch; by contrast, the Addamses are almost functional. But her cooing has its limits. When she and Fester are hitched, she refuses to be seen with him in public until he gets a make-over (i.e., a wig). Then her attempts to do him in--which begin by throwing a radio into his honeymoon bubblebath--are routinely squelched by Fester's plain dumb luck. It's as if the Fates had decreed, Nobody this weird can die.

The movie's central joke is that the Addamses are a lot more stable--they have better "family values"--than the straight-arrows on the outside. The camp that Wednesday and Pugsley attend is a nightmare of enforced cheerfulness where the sunny blond apple-polishers are favored and the nerdy, the minorities and a Jewish boy (David Krumholtz) with a crush on Wednesday are squelched.

The film could use more interaction between the Addamses and the "real" world. (There's a funny bit between Gomez and Nathan Lane as an uncomprehending yet know-it-all police captain.) Without enough confrontations between the two worlds, the film (rated PG-13 for "macabre humor") often pumps itself full of overfamiliar Addams Family shtick--the air of self-celebration is a little gooey. And it's a shame that the filmmakers didn't try to fight the family-entertainment format: The Addamses are, by definition, subversive, and a few more scenes like the one where Debbie sends Thing into a swoon by sucking on one of his fingers would have worked wonders.

Sonnenfeld does somewhat better with "Addams Family Values" than he did with "Addams Family." But he still gooses the film with hyperactive slapstick whenever things get talky; he doesn't trust the performers enough, or the material, which seems designed for a less frenetic approach. Rudnick smuggles some real wit into the proceedings, but it's the kind of wit that needs to be directed funkier, more deadpan. The actors gorge on the quiet moments: The best bits in the film come when Anjelica Huston's Morticia, her bone-white pallor glowing, moans her breathy S&M endearments to Gomez; or when Wednesday, auditioning for a camp play, forces herself to smile. Her ear-to-ear grin, which slowly accumulates before our eyes, is the funniest/creepiest thing in the movie.

Uneven as it is, "Addams Family Values" is considerably more enjoyable than its predecessor. At this rate, if there's a third installment, it'll be a knockout. Or at least a TKO.

'Addams Family Values'

Anjelica Huston: Morticia

Raul Julia: Gomez

Joan Cusack: Debbie Jelinsky

Christopher Lloyd: Fester

A Paramount Pictures presentation of a Scott Rudin production. Director Barry Sonnenfeld. Producer Scott Rudin. Executive producer David Nicksay. Screenplay Paul Rudnick, based on the characters created by Charles Addams. Cinematographer Donald Peterman. Editors Arthur Schmidt, Jim Miller. Costumes Theoni V. Aldredge. Music Marc Shaiman. Production design Ken Adam. Art director William Durrel Jr. Set decorator Marvin March. Sound Peter Kurland. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13 (macabre humor).

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