We often talk about how the best animated films work on two levels, with bright visuals and silly humor and uplifting messages and catchy tunes to keep the little ones entertained, along with the occasional one-liner or visual reference sure to sail over the kids’ heads while scoring with the adults in the audience.
United Artists Releasing presents a film directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon and written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen and Susanna Fogel. Rated PG (for macabre and rude humor, violence and language). Running time: 93 minutes. Now showing at local theaters and on demand.
The flat and uninspired “Addams Family 2” is the wrong kind of “twofer,” in that it’s often too dark and grotesque and bizarre for children, but also profoundly unfunny when it tries to appeal to the grown-ups. As much as I’d love to say this is a movie the whole family can enjoy, it’s more like this is a movie the whole family can skip altogether.
Originally created by Charles Addams in 1938 for a series of cartoons in the New Yorker, the Addams family has been adapted for a cult TV series in the mid-1960s, a number of animated television shows, a pair of well-executed live action films in the 1990s, a Broadway musical and most recently the mediocre animated feature film “The Addams Family” in 2019 and now this equally underwhelming sequel, which features a tired plot, just-OK visuals, a pun-filled screenplay and the return of Snoop Dogg playing Cousin It as a cool-cat rapper — and that latter element is even more cringe-inducing than it sounds.
“Addams Family 2” kicks off with Wednesday Addams (Chloe Grace Moretz) yearning to distance herself from her helicopter parents, while her little brother Pugsley (Javon Walton) has discovered girls and is taking courtship lessons from creepy Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll). Sensing the children’s unrest, Gomez (Oscar Isaac, sounding for all the world like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) suggest a cross-country road trip, and why not call this movie “Addams Family Vacation” instead of “Addams Family 2?”
Anyway. There’s lot of slapstick hijinks, and exchanges like this, at dinner, as the adults await the children’s arrival:
Morticia: “Please, Uncle Fester, wait for the children.”
Uncle Fester: “Children? I thought we were having chicken!”
But these people aren’t cannibals, so that doesn’t make any — ah, what’s the use.
The main storyline has Bill Hader voicing a mad scientist called Cyrus Strange, who has planted the idea in Wednesday’s head that she’s not the biological daughter of Gomez and Morticia — and that resonates with Wednesday, seeing as how she’s brilliant and serious and dour, while the rest of the family is so upbeat and cheerful and also kind of dumb. The Addams clan crosses the country in a tricked-out, steampunk RV, with Thing (a disembodied hand) at the wheel, wearing a fitness watch (ha ha) while the filmmakers employ such overplayed pop hits as “Jump Around” in an attempt to inject energy into the slapstick bits, and jokes on the order of Gomez saying Cousin It is in Florida for spring break and cracking, “Ghouls Gone Wild, am I right?” We’re even subjected to Lurch singing “I Will Survive” in a falsetto voice at a biker bar, Lord help us all. (On another occasion, Gomez observes, “Billie Eilish is a little too sunny for my taste, but I’m still a fan.” It’s as if the screenplay was written by software invoking random pop culture references.)
Weirdly enough, “Addams Family 2” has a big finale not all that different from the climax of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” in that two giant mutant creatures do battle and we don’t care.