No one’s ever going to compare Sony’s Hotel Transylvania films to Pixar’s top-shelf animated gems — at least, not favorably. But there are worse ways to keep your kids busy on a rainy afternoon. “Busy” being the operative word in the latest installment in this monster-mash franchise. Adam Sandler’s Borscht Belt Count Dracula and his posse of silly, spooky pals throw just about everything that’s throwable at the screen — rubbery Tex Avery sight gags, pop-culture punchlines, and of course poop and fart jokes by the pound. Not all of the rat-a-tat gags stick. But enough do.
Directed once again by Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack as well the two previous Transylvania installments), Summer Vacation picks up with the premise that Drac and his undead coworkers in the hospitality biz (Kevin James’ Frankenstein, David Spade’s Invisible Man, and Molly Shannon and Steve Buscemi’s harried mom and dad werewolves) are overdue for some R&R. So Drac’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez, although the character looks a lot more like Reese Witherspoon) books them all on a luxury monster cruise from the Bermuda Triangle to Atlantis. Once on board, the lonely Drac is smitten with the ship’s perky captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), who just happens to be the great-granddaughter of his vampire-hunting nemesis Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan). Can attraction overcome family tensions on this macabre Love Boat? Take a wild guess.
The most inspired sequence in the film comes early on in a caffeinated prologue tracing the long-running Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote rivalry between Drac and the elder Van Helsing. From there, it pretty much coasts downhill. The screwball rom-com stuff works less well, and may leave younger members of the audience crinkling their noses with its talk of smart phone dating apps. But they’ll likely snap back to attention during a “Macarena” dance number near the end that feels about a decade past its sell-by date.
The harmless high jinks all go down easily enough without being particularly memorable or pushing the art form past the expected. Three movies in, the Hotel Transylvania series is undeniably getting a bit long in the fang. It’s maybe one more sequel away from having a stake mercifully driven through its heart. Still, it’s hard to argue with the sight of an airplane piloted by mischievous gremlins or the film’s benign messages of the importance of family and love conquering all. I may have spent large stretches of the film rolling my eyes, but my 5-year-old twins’ attention never flagged. Even if, in their eyes, Summer Vacation was no Lego Movie. Then again, for them, nothing could be. B-