Addams Family Values (1993)

Answering criticisms that the first Addams Family film was just a strung-together collection of gags, director Barry Sonnenfeld hauled in noted wit Paul Rudnick, a Broadway playwright (Jeffrey) and the pseudonymous Libby Gelman-Waxner of Premiere magazine, to give this likable sequel more plot than it really knows what to do with. The A story has serial killing nanny Joan Cusack infiltrate the family to marry and murder Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), but cutaway sub-plots feature a new baby in the house who causes problems by threatening to turn out normal and the horrible eperiences the Addams children have at a horribly twee rich kids' summer camp where all misdemeanours are punished with 'group hugs'. Raul Julia's Gomez and Anjelica Huston's Morticia take a backseat this time, allowing the film to be tent-poled by wonderful performances from Joan Cusack, as a man-killing neurotic (she ties up her victims and gives them a lecture about her traumas, illustrated with slides) and star-in-the-making Christina Ricci as little Wednesday. The best moment comes when Ricci is brainwashed by being shut up with nothing to do but watch Disney videos and is forced to construct a smile, eliciting not the expected sentimental ahhs but a panicky 'she's scaring me'. While the Fester-Debbie plot is well-introduced as Fester gloomily lies in bed reading Strange Men and the Women Who Avoid Them, Cusack's kooky malevolence is ill-served by a succession of repetitive failed murder gags, though her dropping of a ghetto blaster into Fester's bath pays off with a well-remembered classic TV image as Fester holds a lit-up electric bulb in his mouth. The Camp Chippewa scenes offer far more meat for the film's skewed values, opposing the misfit Addamses – whose kind are seen in a somewhat too-blunt equation to include racial minorities and the handicapped – with pampered moppets who indulge in 'grup hugs' and whose equivalent of the chaingang sweatbox is a wendy house with videos of The Brady Bunch and Disney films. If it doesn't really work as a film and is often over-obvious – the Pubert jokes are especially duff, with a notable bit of cleaning-up as Charles Addams' great gag-line 'congratulations, it's a baby' is amended to a feeble 'it's an Addams' – then Addams Family Values at least has a consistent enough parade of one-liners and singleton gags to keep the laugh-per-minute ratio acceptably high. Nasty-minded children will also enjoy Wednesday's genocidal history pageant, in which she retells the story of the Pilgrim Fathers and Pocahontas with Peckinpah gore effects.

First published in this form here.

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