Beset by production difficulties, it’s a wonder that “The Addams Family” movie exists at all. The fact that it’s great is a minor miracle. Marking Barry Sonnenfeld’s directorial debut after Tim Burton passed on the chance to helm this big screen reboot. Famously creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, the movie takes the twisted gothic, cobwebbed humour of the TV series and makes it fresh again thanks to a pitch-perfect cast and dazzlingly drab production design.
The eccentric and wealthy Addams family have macabre taste and a profoundly naïve and trusting manner, which probably explains why their family solicitor, Tully (Dan Hedeya) is a broke deadbeat who’s in hock to a ruthless loan shark for thousands and thousands of dollars. Tully realises his only chance of getting out of debt is to get his hands on the Addams family fortune and when he realises his loan shark’s son and enforcer Gordon (Christopher Lloyd) is the spitting image of Gomez Addams’ long-lost brother Fester, he concocts a diabolical plan to swindle the ooky Addamses out of their treasure.
The plot, involving the Bermuda Triangle, amnesia, dis-place-ment and a final convenient twist in the story does exactly what it needs to do: provide a convenient series of hooks for the witty and wonderful script to hang the jokes on. And the gags fly thick and fast, from the cavalcade of sight gags (and Sonnenfeld’s Raimi-esque restless, zooming camerawork) to the one-liners and exquisitely devilish repartee between a cast who, despite all the problems which plagued the production crew (stress, illness, key personnel changes, studio changes), seem to having an absolute blast.
Heading the cast is the inestimable Raul Julia, who attacks the role of Gomez Addams with such gusto and ghoulish joie de vivre that every time I watch this movie I feel the heartbreak of his untimely death at age 54 anew. Anjelica Huston, likewise, provides a wonderful Morticia and while the story may not give her that much to do, every single one of her lines hits its target. Christopher Lloyd is as reliably intense and crazy as you would expect and while the rest of the cast all provide value for money, that standout performance is that of young Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams. Never overshadowing her Puglsey co-star Jimmy Workman, she nevertheless outshines him and commands nearly every scene she’s in.
Spooky and creepy without ever straying over the line into scary, it achieves a superbly balanced dark silliness and, for me, represents the very essence of the frightening fun that the Halloween ‘holiday’ represents.