Addams Family Values is one of the relatively few sequels to be better than the original film. A gleeful assault on the values held dear by Middle America, it manages to be both bitchily funny and genuinely heart-warming without being glutinously sentimental. The shapelessness of the first film is replaced with a half-decent plot line that holds together some hilariously funny set=pieces and plenty of good one-liners. The satire isn't what you'd call subtle, but it is surprisingly cutting in places.
Taking up from where the first film left off, we meet Morticia Addams (Huston) and her husband Gomez (Julia) as they have some good news. Morticia is having a baby and, after a joyously painful birth, Gomez greets the family with the good news that "It's an Addams !". The new baby, revelling in the name of Pubert, is adored by everyone except the two children Pugsley and Wednesday (Ricci), both of whom begin plans to dispose of the unwelcome arrival; most memorably, dressing him up as Marie Antoinette all ready for the gullotine. Their fratricidal ambitions are thwarted by the arrival of a new nanny, Debbie Jilinsky (Cusack), who immediately makes eyes at Uncle Fester (Lloyd), charms Morticia and Gomez and packs the kids off to "Camp Chippawa", the Summer Camp from hell. It comes as no great surprise to discover that Debby is not really enamoured of Fester but is in fact a serial killer, "The Black Widow", renowned for marrying eligible bachelors and then disposing of them for their money. But can Fester be saved from his inevitable fate ? More to the point, will Wednesday and Pugsley survive six weeks in Camp Chippewa when their bad attitude has led them to a fate worse than death - a day in the Harmony Hut with only Julie Andrews and "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree" for company, followed by a heart-freezing ensemble rendition of the dreaded "Kumbayah".
There's nothing ground-breaking or even especially original here but it's heartening to see a film which is packed with such good natured malice. The writer Paul Rudnick is highly accomplished at dark comedy and his script had be laughing from the beginning when the children and their demented Granny (Kane) solemnly bury a beloved pet which is still very much alive. Virtually everything Gomez and Morticia say is funny, usually in the blackest possible way, and their subversion of the values of family life is what makes this film pleasingly cutting. Gomez, whose response to the compliment "Isn't he a ladykiller" is a jolly "Acquited !", is the perfect husband, supplying Morticia with all the dark pleasure he can manage, and a considerate brother to Fester, a man who brings a whole new meaning to the word gauche, assuring him "Someday you'll meet a special woman, one who won't press charges". Even better, however, is the deadpan brilliance of Christina Ricci's Wednesday. I won't spoil the gems she utters while imprisoned in the camp from hell but I was helpless with laughter on several occasions. It's a great comic performance. In fact, all the cast distinguish themselves in one way or another - I particularly liked Joan Cusack's gorgeous husband-killer. She is obviously at home with Rudnick's sense of humour since she was also great in In And Out which he wrote. Anyone familiar with the writer's work will be amused to see his trademark use of "Macho Man" by the Village People in one the bar-room scene.
The subversion of traditional values is pretty obvious throughout but it's done with a nice line in dark humour - the various attempts to kill the baby are especially amusing - and the celebration of all that is unpleasant is strangely heartening. The nastiest characters are the ultra-orthodox camp leaders, well played in broad caricature by Peter MacNichol and Christina Baranski, and of course Debbie, whose psychopathic tendencies were kicked off by getting the wrong kind of Barbie doll when she was eight. At camp, the nice, respectable children are egomaniacs and fascists who ignore and belittle anyone who dares to be unorthodox and the revenge wreaked on them is most satisfying. Another highlight is the splendidly deranged wedding, at which Cousin It officiates. The celebration of all that is usually spurned is the main reason why the ending is so heartwarming - it's a twisted version of that rather nauseating end of Moonstruck.
It looks stunning, thanks to Ken Adam's sumptuously gothic production design, and Alan Munro's special effects are unobtrusively impressive with some seamless work involving the baby and, of course, the ever-present Thing. Barry Sonnenfeld's direction takes care to include a visual gag in just about every scene and there's a surprisingly high hit-rate - the influence of his work with the Coens is still very evident here incidentally, both in the pacing of the scenes and the camerawork. It comes in at a tight 90 minutes without ever flagging. It's hardly a great film but it is well made, witty and constantly entertaining without either moralising or lapsing into sentimentality. For a modern Hollywood comedy, that's quite some achievement.
This is a bare bones release from Paramount which is adequate without being outstanding. No major complaints about it but it's not what you'd call a must-buy.
The picture quality is somewhat variable. At its best the image is sharp and clear with good detail and richly saturated colours. But the contrast is never particularly good and this is a problem with a film which makes such extensive use of darker shades of colour. Some of the browns and blacks blend into each other to produce a muddy visual effect. The film is presented in Anamorphic 1.85:1. There are some artifacts but nothing too serious. Grain is often present but more so in the first half of the film. The darker interior scenes were obviously an encoding problem since the scenes at the summer camp are considerably more impressive.
The soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which is full of vitality and features some very nice use of the surround channels but not much action from the sub-woofer. Music comes across very strongly and the dialogue is clear usually placed in the front left and right channels.
The only extras are two theatrical trailers, both of which give away far too much of the film. There are a measly 16 chapter stops and static menus.
This is a very amusing, clever film which has one of the funniest scripts of the nineties and a fine array of comic performances. Paramount have short-changed fans of the film however with a transfer that is average rather than good, and only the soundtrack is really worth praising. If you want to see the film, this is better than TV or VHS but for the retail price it's not really worth the money.
Mike Sutton has reviewed the Region 2 release of Addams Family Values.