It’s a classic sitcom trope, the vacation episode. You remove your beloved characters from their familiar soundstage, place them in an exotic locale and the hijinks practically write themselves.
Except, they don’t.
“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” places its monsters in a discordant setting and calls it comedy. You’ve got Dracula in a Hawaiian shirt, Frankenstein’s monster wearing a lei, and an assemblage of witches, werewolves and ghouls playing beach volleyball. What, you want jokes too?
The film does land a few, including a primo gag that involves gremlins running a nightmarish airline. But such comedic sophistication is an outlier. The rest is noise: annoying DJ battles, Dracula passing gas, entire conversations that consist of nonsensical baby talk. When the creative well runs dry, make silly noises on a boat and hope for the best.
This go-round, Dracula (Adam Sandler) needs a date. He’s been single for decades after the death of his wife. But now with his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) grown and with a family of her own, the loneliness is beginning to weigh on him. We’re treated to a montage of the centuries-old being trying to figure out monster Tinder (and a questionable tentacle-porn joke that will hopefully fly over the kids’ heads) before Mavis, mistaking her father’s heartsick longing for work exhaustion, schedules the family for a getaway cruise.
A monster cruise, of course, settling sail from the Bermuda Triangle to the legendary lost city of Atlantis. The whole gang is along for the ride: Mavis’ human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi), Frank, aka Frankenstein’s monster (Kevin James), invisible man Griffin (David Spade), et al.
Dracula is wary of the endeavor until his eyes lands on Captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), and he “zings” (the film’s term for love at first sight). It should be impossible. He already zinged once, for Mavis’ mom, and one zing is all any of us get. And yet he’s positively twitterpated for the pixie-cut cutie at the ship’s helm.
There’s one other small hitch: Ericka is no mere cruise captain, but the great-granddaughter of Dracula’s arch-nemesis, famed vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing.
The animation is colorful and spritely as ever under the direction of Genndy Tartakovsky, who directed the previous installments of the franchise and whose style was honed on television cartoons like “Samurai Jack,” “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “The Powerpuff Girls.” It never looks dull; it’s the story that lags.
“Hotel Transylvania 3” is a harmless enough excuse for a couple hours of air-conditioned entertainment, which is all some people ask of a kid’s film. But there’s something bleak about its banality. These immortal, undead creatures are dragging with middle-age malaise, desperate for a date night away from the kids. The big showcase destination, the lost City of Atlantis, has been converted to a casino, where winged beasts and dark lords sit dead-eyed in front of flashing slot machines. These are lives so trapped in a rut that the climax is set to “Macarena,” a song that was popular when Sandler was last considered a comedic genius.
Perhaps a vacation would serve this tired franchise well.
Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation present a film directed by Genndy Tartakovsky and written by Tartakovsky and Michael McCullers. Rated PG (for some action and rude humor). Running time: 97 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.