‘Hotel Transylvania 2’: A modest upgrade for Sandler’s vampire franchise

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By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett News Service

File it under unexpected: “Hotel Transylvania 2” is better than the original.

Mind you, this is a low hurdle to clear. The first film, basically an animated version of Adam Sandler’s invite-my-friends-over movies like “Grown Ups,” had a talented cast and gave it nothing to do. The sequel isn’t great or anything — it’s not particularly good or anything — but it is an improvement.

By the time they’ve made eight or nine of these, who knows? Maybe they’ll come up with something worth getting excited about.

Sandler returns as Dracula, the famous vampire who built a hotel for monsters where they could relax without the dangers of human contact. In the first film the overprotective Dracula struggled with the attraction his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) developed for a human slacker, Jonathan (Andy Samberg).

Now humans and monsters interact, and Mavis and Jonathan are married and have a baby, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff). Is he a vampire or a human? Or both? Evidently the truth won’t be known for sure until Dennis’ fifth birthday, but Dracula doesn’t want to wait. He’s worried, with some reason, that Mavis will want to take a human Dennis away from the hotel to be raised in the human world.

So he arranges for Jonathan and Mavis to take a trip together while he babysits Dennis. But his real plan is to gather his pals Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Griffin the invisible man (David Spade) and Murray the mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), take a road trip and teach Dennis how to be a monster.

This opens the door for some decent comedy, as the old-school Dracula bemoans the way the world has changed. A scary spot they used to frequent is a hipster park now, for instance, and no one is afraid of them. They’re cute and cuddly, not terrifying.

Buscemi’s Wayne remains the best thing about the franchise. In the first film he was constantly exhausted, thanks to his hundreds of cubs. He’s still tired but he’s also lost all his monster instinct. When Dracula orders him to kill and eat an adorable deer in the woods, Wayne’s hesitation and confusion is funny.

Griffin’s “girlfriend” — invisible like him, so you can’t prove she’s not there — is also pretty funny, and the bit is delivered in just the small doses it deserves.

Complicating matters further is Dracula’s father Vlad (Mel Brooks), who everyone is scared of, especially Dracula. His hatred of humans runs deep, and everyone worries about what he might do if his grandson turns out to be human.

There are some nice messages of inclusion, but they’re crowded out by a big dumb action scene at the end. Sometimes you get the idea Sandler, who co-wrote the film with Robert Smigel (director Genndy Tartakovsky returns from the original), gets afraid to stray too far from what he thinks his audience wants. Too bad. But what do I know? HIs audience will probably be happy with another one of these.

‘Hotel Transylvania 2’ one and a half stars

Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation present a film directed by Genndy Tartakovsky and written by Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated PG (for some scary images, action and rude humor. ). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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