One can only do cinematography like what's found in Raising Arizona and Miller's Crossing for so long before Hollywood hands you the keys to the director's chair, and that's precisely what Paramount did for DP Barry Sonnenfeld back in 1990. Sonnenfeld's first feature film, The Addams Family, is certainly stacked with gorgeous shots, stunning set design, and ultra-slick camera tricks -- but there's a notable lack of oomph when it comes to the story side of the equation.
Boasting a stellar cast and a visual style that's entirely worth watching, The Addams Family suffers from simple weak screenwriting. Most of the flick's visual gags fly, but when it comes to the spoken word, this film doesn't offer very much that's memorable. Adapted from the works of cartoonist Charles Addams, the screenplay by Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) and Larry Wilson (Beetlejuice) feels like it ran through the re-write machine about 11 times too many.
The plot is a threadbare thing indeed: The irrepressably monstrous Addams clan (father Gomez, mother Morticia, kids Wednesday and Puggsley) must contend with an impostor when their long lost Uncle Fester (allegedly) returns home. Of course it's all just a scheme to separate the Addamses from their horrifically huge fortune, but ultimately the narrative is about as thrilling as an old episode of the Addams' TV series. And for all its visual trickery and dazzling design, The Addams Family becomes a fairly unmemorable affair -- mainly because it's simply not all that funny.
But Sonnenfeld would return to the scene only two years later, and this time he already had the first flick (and a comedy called For Love or Money) under his belt. And I'm guessing the weak plotting and limp gags from the original Addams was well-acknowledged, because the sequel, Addams Family Values is an improvement in every conceivable way. The icky art direction, freaky FX, and the fluid camera flourishes are still present and accounted for -- but the second flick is actually funny, too. And obviously that goes a long way.
The Part 2 plot is a two-pronged affair: a devilish little vixen aims to scam Uncle Fester out of his riches while the Addams kids are shuttled off to a sunny little summer camp. The former plot thread feels a lot like a rehash of the original flick, except someone was smart enough to hire the hilarious Joan Cusack as the oddball femme fatale. The second story, in which little Christina Ricci manages to steal the whole damn movie, is packed with clever swipes and amusing one-liners. The screenplay was the debut effort from Paul Rudnick (In & Out), and it's packed with nifty little offhand jokes and bouts of witty wordplay.
In both films, leading man Raul Julia and leading lady Anjelica Huston deliver some great work -- even if neither are given all that much to do over the course of both films. Christopher Lloyd chews much scenery as the wackily disturbing Uncle Fester. The double feature also boasts some rather funny cameos/supporting roles, most notably from folks like Peter MacNicol, Christine Baranski, Dan Hedaya, Carol Kane, and a young David Krumholtz.
So they're both amusing little movies, gothic comedies full of dizzy artworks and impressive eye candy. The first flick is smirk-worthy and pleasant enough, even if the plot is a bore, and the sequel is even better. And now they're both on one disc, which is awesome news -- provided you don't really care about special features.
Video: Both flicks are presented in their original (anamorphic) widescreen formats. I'm assuming they're the same transfers as the ones used on the single-disc releases from a few years back. Picture quality is quite good; Paramount's known for high-end catalog releases.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0, with optional English subtitles on both movies. Both flicks sounded perfectly crisp to me.
Extras: Two trailers for each movie. Oh, and both movies are on side A. No flipping necessary.
I was surprised to remember how visuall cool, yet dramatically inert the original Addams Family was, but it's still a worthwhile little diversion, all things considered. The sequel, if you're asking me, is an improvement all over the place. Quicker, tighter, and definitely funnier.