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‘The Addams Family’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 22, 1991

"The Addams Family" is more laughs than a casketful of whoopee cushions at a morticians' convention. More than merely a sequel of the TV series, the film is a compendium of paterfamilias Charles Addams's macabre drawings, a resurrection of the cartoonist's body of work. For family friends, it would seem a viewing is de rigueur mortis.

Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia are ideally cast as the glamour ghoul Morticia "Tish" Addams and her doting husband, Gomez. Together they head a mouldering ancestral manse, which is frequently dusted to no avail by the towering butler, Lurch (Carel Struycken). Other residents are a disembodied hand, Thing (Christopher Hart); Morticia's mother, Granny (Judith Malina); and the Addams children, Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) and Wednesday (Christina Ricci).

A precursor of such TV broods as the Bunkers and the Bundys, the Addamses remain a deliciously dysfunctional bunch. Contrarians to the gristle, they delight in their sorrows as surely as they savor thorns over roses and sun by the light of the moon. They would be completely unhappy except for Gomez's relative despair -- his older brother Fester (Christopher Lloyd) has been inexplicably missing for the last 25 years. Complications arise when a con woman (Elizabeth Wilson) produces Uncle Fester (or is he Yul Brynner's ghost?) with the intent of locating the family fortune.

Although the plot is flimsier than cobweb it serves well enough, thanks to the production designers' elaborate contributions and the performers' formidable panache. Eleven-year-old Ricci is a revelation as the morbidly fascinating Wednesday. The kid was born deadpan. She even resembles Huston, who is terribly funny as the concerned mother of this close-knit if eccentric clan. But mainly, Huston's a vamp, clinging to her beloved Gomez with the fluidity of smoke. And no wonder, for Julia's heroic Gomez is not only a devastating romantic but a swashbuckling dreamboat.

The Addamses are inclined to swordplay, though this should in no way dissuade the feint of heart. The only truly scary thing about the movie is Granny's cooking, which combines recipes from "The Joy of Cooking" with suggestions from "Gray's Anatomy." Otherwise it is a gothically convivial, if utterly silly scenario penned by Larry Wilson and Caroline Thompson of "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands," respectively. Since nothing really bothers the Addamses, except normalcy, the writers are at their funniest when pitting the characters against straight society. The opening scene finds them on the roof ready to poor a caldron of boiling wassail on a group of chirpy carolers.

It's rather hard to dramatically challenge people who love pain, which means the film finally runs down like a toy top. Still, cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld has executed his directorial debut with considerable elan. With all those spectral effects, it must have been a nightmarish undertaking. But given the Addams way of looking at things, that makes Sonnenfeld one lucky stiff. An ooky, kooky, spooky oeuvre, "The Addams Family" is decidedly not for the grave.

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