The rumors of Adam Sandler’s demise have not been exaggerated. This summer’s limp sci-fi comedy Pixels was a critical disaster and something of a commercial letdown. The former is no surprise, as reviewers weren’t exactly anxious to take Sandler’s bait even back in the Billy Madison days, but America’s Favorite Schlub has always been able to count on a big box-office return. That’s how he got away with peddling his brand of crude misogyny masked as comedy for years, despite the fact that he basically putzes his way through starring roles and dresses for red-carpet events like he’s doing housework on Sunday. Let’s not make any bones about this: Adam Sandler and his loyal menagerie of dude-bros (including fellow lowest-common-denominators David Spade and Kevin James) kind of suck.
Which is why it’s no small thing to say that 2012’s Hotel Transylvania, an animated comedy about a hotel run by classic movie monsters, does not suck. It’s a perfectly fine film that targets children and doesn’t allow for any of Sandler’s worst tendencies (latent homophobia, dick jokes, etc.) to take shape. Sure, it doesn’t quite rise to the high standards set by Pixar and DreamWorks Animation in recent years, but its mile-a-minute pacing is zany enough to keep kids enthralled, and its send-ups of pop culture might even elicit a smirk or two from parents. With all of that considered, Hotel Transylvania needed a sequel about as much as Kevin James needs a hamburger.
Yet here we are, presented with a fresh slice of PG-rated horror-comedy in Hotel Transylvania 2. This version picks up where the last left off. Dracula (Sandler) has opened his hotel’s doors to humans and even allowed his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), to marry the mortal Johnny (Andy Samberg). As befits a movie made for a 10-year-old’s attention span, the pacing in the film’s first act is staggering. Within minutes of their wedding, Mavis and Johnny have already conceived and birthed a boy named Dennis, who gets his curly red hair from his father but might or might not be a vampire (we don’t know, because for no explicable reason their teeth don’t grow in until the age of five).
The film’s plot centers on this question of “Is he or isn’t he?”, with Dracula doing everything he can to ensure that his vampiric bloodline continues. It’s a predictable dilemma with a predictable outcome, even for a children’s movie. The message is that you deserve to be loved for who you are, whether that’s a plain old human or a bloodsucking creature of the night. If you don’t know how this one’s going to end, you’re either in grade school or you’re too preoccupied fishing the popcorn out of your kid’s hair.
But you know what? Hotel Transylvania 2 is kind of a fun movie if it catches you in the right mood. It’s incrementally more intelligent than its predecessor, and its jokes fly at you so quickly that a few of them are bound to hit. The least successful revolve around puns. There are not one but two attempts to get laughs out of the portmanteau “Vampa” (a vampire grandpa) and plenty of other groan-worthy attempts at wordplay. The film also has a strange preoccupation with being current, calling attention to pop music and hip gadgetry whenever it can. Yes, we get it, it’s hilarious that Dracula is just a dad who doesn’t know how to text or use a smartphone. There’s even some shameless product placement in case you were wondering what type of computer is the choice of monsters everywhere (the Sony Vaio).
The film does much better when it tries to get comedic mileage out of the characters themselves, all of whom are based on familiar Hollywood tropes. Though his appearance is barely more than a cameo, David Spade’s Invisible Man has a pretty great ongoing gag about his hot girlfriend, who may or may not be real (hint: she isn’t). Other inspired choices include casting Steve Buscemi as a middle-aged werewolf who’d rather play fetch than hunt deer and a quick detour that explores Bigfoot’s career in the European Football League. Mel Brooks seems a bit underutilized as Drac’s grumpy father, Vlad, but he’s a veteran of quick-hit comedy and a welcome addition to the film’s final act.
All the same, it’s hard to recommend Hotel Transylvania 2 to moviegoers who don’t have children in tow. One of the film’s ongoing gags is based on the fact that most of these monsters are middle-aged and not quite as scary as they used to be, but there aren’t too many 40-year-olds chomping at the bit to relate to Frankenstein. Maybe we should applaud Sandler for finally making a movie with even the pretense of wit about it, and one that the kids will almost undoubtedly enjoy. The guy’s basically been a zombie for the past 15 years, so it’s fitting that he can find a bit of redemption among the undead.