Check in for Christ­mas

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Ho­tel Tran­syl­va­nia 2,

W(PG)

hile the three films un­der re­view this week are aimed at the Christ­mas mar­ket, only Ho­tel Tran­syl­va­nia and Love the Coopers are suit­able for chil­dren, though they may find the lat­ter a bit dull. The Night Be­fore is ab­so­lutely adults only, and I don’t rec­om­mend it to them ei­ther.

Ho­tel Tran­syl­va­nia 2 is the best of the three, a clever and funny an­i­mated romp that kids and adults will enjoy. It sees the re­turn of most of the key cast and crew from its equally clever and funny pre­de­ces­sor of 2012, in­clud­ing di­rec­tor Gen­ndy Tar­takovsky and writer Robert Smigel, who shares scriptwrit­ing credit with star Adam Sandler.

Seven years have passed since the end of the first film, which is but a blip when, like Count Drac­ula (Sandler), you are in your 500s. Drac’s daugh­ter Mavis (Se­lena Gomez) mar­ries her hu­man boyfriend Jonathan and soon there’s a baby on the way. Drac, controlling and over­pro­tec­tive as ever, bones up by read­ing What to Ex­pect When You’re Ex­pect­ing a Vam­pire.

But there lies the rub: will the child of a hu­man and a vam­pire be one or the other, or some sort of hy­brid? Lit­tle Den­nis is born and Drac has no doubts: “Thou­sands of years of Drac­ula genes, it is not go­ing to hap­pen,’’ he de­clares when it’s sug­gested his grand­son may be a hu­man. Jonathan’s mother is not so cer­tain: “Are we sure he is a vam­pire? Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that …”

The ac­tion of the film turns on this ques­tion and un­folds in the lead-up to Den­nis’s fifth birth­day, by which age he is sup­posed to have pro­duced fangs. Drac is de­ter­mined to prove the boy is a blood­sucker — “He’s just a late fanger” — and so keep him and his beloved daugh­ter with him at the ho­tel, a plan Jonathan is happy to go along with as he feels at home there.

When Mavis and Jonathan visit his par­ents in Cal­i­for­nia, leav­ing Den­nis with “Vampa”, Drac springs into ac­tion, en­list­ing his bud­dies Franken­stein’s mon­ster (Kevin James), Wayne the were­wolf (Steve Buscemi), Mur­ray the mummy (Kee­gan-Michael Key) and Grif­fin the invisible man (David Spade) on a quest to prove “Den­nisav­itch” is a vam­pire. A scene where Drac “teaches” the boy to fly by throw­ing him off a rick­ety tower is a clas­sic. Buscemi’s weary were­wolf is also a treat.

Things take an in­ter­est­ing turn when Drac’s es­tranged fa­ther Count Vlad (Mel Brooks) turns

The Night Be­fore, up. He’s old school and doesn’t go in for mod­ern no­tions of liv­ing peace­fully with hu­mans. It all builds to a sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion that leaves lots of room for a third film, due in 2018. It wouldn’t be De­cem­ber with­out a baggy, overtalky Amer­i­can dram­edy about a dys­func­tional ex­tended fam­ily com­ing to­gether for the hol­i­days, bitch­ing and bick­er­ing and let­ting cats out bags, be­fore find­ing some sort of res­o­lu­tion that re­minds them — and us — of the true spirit of Christ­mas. This year it is Love the Coopers, which takes its ti­tle from the fam­ily’s Christ­mas card sign off. I sup­pose there’s a de­lib­er­ate dou­ble mean­ing there, but I can’t but help be irked by the miss­ing comma.

Char­lotte and Sam Cooper (Diane Keaton and John Good­man) have been mar­ried for 40 years but are about to split up. The rea­sons are not par­tic­u­larly clear: he misses the wilder days of their youth and re­sents that she has re­fused to join him on a dream trip to Africa. Why he couldn’t have just gone to Africa by him­self some time in the past four decades is a mystery.

Their son Hank (Ed Helms) is also go­ing through a di­vorce and hid­ing the fact he’s un­em­ployed. Their un­at­tached mi­nor play­wright daugh­ter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) picks up a sol­dier (Jake Lacy) at the air­port and per­suades him to pre­tend to be her boyfriend to make her par­ents happy.

This fake re­la­tion­ship is mined hard for com­edy and pro­fun­dity, but yields lit­tle of ei­ther. When the re­li­gious GI (who is named Joe) asks Eleanor what she be­lieves in, she replies, “I be­lieve in the sound of Nina Si­mone’s voice.”

Also head­ing to the Coopers for Christ­mas din­ner are Char­lotte’s child­less sis­ter Emma (Marisa Tomei) and their fa­ther Bucky (a solid Alan Arkin), who has a thing for Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), the beau­ti­ful young wait­ress at his lo­cal diner. With so many char­ac­ters, you’d think di­rec­tor Jessie Nel­son ( I Am Sam) could let them tell the story, but ev­ery so of­ten we have the dots un­nec­es­sar­ily joined for us by a nar­ra­tor, who ap­pears to be the fam­ily dog (voiced by Steve Martin).

Char­lotte just wants the fam­ily to have “one last, per­fect Christ­mas” be­fore she and Sam break the bad news about their mar­riage. Love the Coopers sets it­self up to ex­plore some in­ter­est­ing if not orig­i­nal ques­tions — the grow­ing apart of long-term cou­ples, par­ents’ over-in­vest­ment in their chil­dren’s lives, sib­ling ri­val­ries, the ridicu­lous stress of the fes­tive sea­son — but it baulks at prob­ing too deep and in­stead re­treats into sch­maltz.

There is one stand­out scene, and it’s no co­in­ci­dence it takes place in iso­la­tion from the over­worked main story: Emma, caught shoplift­ing, starts a ten­ta­tive, per­sonal con­ver­sa­tion with the young black ar­rest­ing of­fi­cer (An­thony Mackie) as they drive to the po­lice sta­tion. Tomei and Mackie are fine ac­tors and in this quiet, re­strained scene they de­liver the or­di­nary, some­times painful re­al­ity of life that the rest of the film so lacks. Not even Mackie can do much for The Night Be­fore, the lat­est offering from Cana­dian-Amer­i­can co­me­dian and film­maker Seth Ro­gen. If we ac­cept the word dram­edy to de­note com­e­dy­drama, may I sug­gest crudemy for Ro­gen’s oeu­vre? As with the ap­palling Py­ongyang-set The In­ter­view of last year, The Night Be­fore re­lies on swear­ing, stereo­types, caus­ing of­fence and ado­les­cent sex­ual jokes for its laughs.

Take the film’s low point, in which James Franco (aptly play­ing him­self) texts pho­tos of his pe­nis to Ro­gen’s drug-ad­dled Isaac, who won­ders if he should suck it. Not find­ing that funny doesn’t make you a prude; it just makes you some­one who doesn’t find it funny. A sim­i­lar point could be made for the scene in which Isaac records a mes­sage to his un­born child in which he calls him or her a “c..t’’. I could go on, as Jonathan Levine’s film does.

Isaac, Chris (Mackie) and Ethan (a mis­cast Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt) are best friends from school who formed a bond when Ethan’s par­ents were killed in a car accident. Ev­ery Christ­mas Eve they link up, hit the streets of New York, get off their faces and, quote, “f..k shit up’’.

But now it’s 2015: Isaac is a lawyer, mar­ried and soon to be a fa­ther, while Chris has found fame as a foot­ball player. They have de­cided this Christ­mas Eve will be the last ride of the three ami­gos, and Ethan has reluc­tantly agreed. When Ethan steals three tick­ets to an an­nual party the trio have been try­ing to get into for­ever, this be­comes the fo­cus of their night.

If there is a pos­i­tive to be found in The Night Be­fore, it’s in the fe­male char­ac­ters, who are the only grown-ups in sight. Jil­lian Bell is funny and be­liev­able as Isaac’s wife Betsy, as is Lizzy Caplan as Ethan’s ex-girl­friend Diana. Singer Mi­ley Cyrus pops up for a cameo and for once doesn’t come across as the least sen­si­ble per­son in the room, thanks to Franco’s pres­ence.

There’s a clunky echo of A Christ­mas Carol cour­tesy of a drug dealer named Mr Green (Michael Shan­non) but, hon­estly, if Charles Dick­ens saw this he’d be for­given for let­ting loose a swear word or two of his own.

above, is clever and funny, while

be­low, with An­thony Mackie, has few re­deem­ing qual­i­ties

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