Harmless (adjective): not able or likely to cause harm; inoffensive. Synonyms include safe, benign, mild, unobjectionable and unexceptional.
All of these words apply to Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, a harmless, safe form of entertainment that goes out of its way to be as inoffensive and unobjectionable as it can be, ultimately making the film feel benign and unexceptional. If I may, I would also like to add: unnecessary.
We were first introduced to Adam Sandler’s version of Dracula in 2012’s Hotel Transylvania, also a pretty harmless movie that brought monsters and humans to a mutual understanding of compatibility when Johnny (voice of Ryan Samberg), a stereotypical surfer-type human who always seems to be high without the use of any drugs, stumbles into Drac’s Hotel Transylvania — a hotel specifically for monsters — while backpacking on vacation and subsequently falls in love with Drac’s daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). Along the way, we’re treated to a bunch of silly puns and sight gags that are fun and sometimes whimsical but essentially don’t add up to a whole lot.
Fast forward past 2015’s Hotel Transylvania 2, which itself zips right past Johnny and Mavis’s wedding and birth to their son Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) to focus on whether or not the little runt is a vampire, and we come to the third installment, which muddles through a similar storyline to the first film disguised as a fun new adventure.
This time, it’s Drac who will find love with a human counterpart, and Mavis who doesn’t car much for the possible union. When Mavis plans a vacation cruise to the lost city of Atlantis to cheer her father up and spend time with him as a family, Drac instantly falls for (or zings — a tired, lazy iteration of when werewolves imprint on someone in the Twilight Saga) the captain of the ship, Ericka (Katherine Hahn). But if you thought this was going to be about Drac wooing Ericka (or the other way around) you’d be wrong.
Summer Vacation is set-up from the opening moments as a tale of revenge, wherein legendary monster-hunter Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) seeks to finally wipe out all monsters for good, the execution of which is weak at best. The way writers Michael McCullers and Genndy Tartakovsky acheive this goal doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, although, I will admit, the final sequence does lend itself to the only chuckle-worthy bits in the whole film.
Now, back to the supposed love affair between Drac and Ericka. It takes almost half of the run-time to even set up the circumstances that would lead these two to even get together, so by the time Tartakovsky (also the director) starts to build this relationship, there’s very little time to build any chemistry between them that would warrant any natural progression, making what happens in the second half feel unnatural and false. If more time was spent on Drac attempting to seduce Ericka, evolving their characters, or giving them a reason to change their views on certain things, it might have been a fresh take on what worked so well when Johnny fell in love with Mavis.
The problem is, McCullers and Tartakovsky stack the deck with so many characters that have literally nothing to do or have very little consequence to the main plot, that they suck the time away from establishing any real connection between the main characters and Mavis’s apprehension. Take for example Wayne the wolf (Steve Buscemi), his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) and their brood of pups. These characters are hardly seen or utilized in any substantial way in the first act, and then are subsequently discharged from the film halfway through as not be seen again until the very end. If they weren’t going to have any reason to be there, why include them at all (at least once the vacation started)?
I understand their presence, as well as the rest of the clan, including Frankenstein (Kevin James), Murray the Mummy (Keegan Michael-Key), Invisible Man (David Spade), Vlad (Mel Brooks) and Blobby, fits into the plot, but had Tartakovsky made one small change to the reasoning behind Van Helsing’s plan, these characters could have been utilized effectively in small doses so as to keep them from interfering with precious time needed to develop the main characters within the plot, especially Mavis, whose story arc feels entirely rushed and lacks the poignancy that Tartakovsky was hoping for. How it’s written, it feels as if these characters are jammed in there for no other reason than to draw in the kids that liked them in the first two iterations.
Had Tartakovsky chosen to do the brave thing and leave these monsters at home, allowing his film to focus solely on Dracula’s family, it would have given the film time to not only develop these story arcs, but more than likely help to develop more clever jokes as the team are forced to do something different. the Hotel Transylvania series has always been about Drac, Mavis and Johnny, so by sidelining two-thirds of these characters for innocuous repetition because we can’t leave behind a bunch of secondary characters, even though we have no use for them other to tell more lame jokes, you lose the essence of what made the first film (and in some ways, the second) fun.
Instead, everyone involved resorts back to the same old shtick, leaving the audience with a stale, cold piece of bread that no one was hankering for. One sequence that pops into mind that could have had so much more flavor to it is when everyone is flying to where they will board the ship on an airline run by Gremlins. There is a lot of potential in this idea, and yet Tartokovsky can’t wrangle the humor enough to intelligently create any laughs beyond simple, obvious humor. Oh well. I guess we’ll see everyone back here for Hotel Transylvania 4: Baby on Board, where we get to see all of these characters learn how to take care of a baby in a safe, unobjectionable, harmless manner.
My Grade: C-
Taking its cue from eighties action films, Skyscraper sets up a simple plot that forces stars Dwayne Johnson and Neve Campbell into a series of death-defying action sequences, which are as non-nonsensical and ridiculous as they are tremendously fun to watch. A-
Next week, new movies include The Equalizer 2, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and Unfriended: Dark Web. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.