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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Hotel Transylvania 2, Review: Vampa ire

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Hotel Transylvania 2, Review: Vampa ire

When you want to turn horror into comedy, what better ploy than to make them animated/CGI characters? Add 3D to that, and the spell is cast. Only problem is, the funnier it gets, the less scary it remains, and vice versa. Like the passers-by in Hotel Transylvania 2, who are far from scared at the past-their-prime monster brigade’s pathetic attempts at instilling fear in them, the audience might find the proceedings short of being very scary or too funny. Interestingly, the film has a five-year old in a central role, but not many five-year olds are likely to be taken to see a Dracula film. However, those 5-12 year-olds who find themselves in cinema halls, watching the tale of 539 year-old Drac desperately, and hilariously, trying to initiate his grandson into coming-of-age vampiredom, might actually laugh gleefully time and again, at some outrageous, monstrous antics.

Everything seems to be changing for the better at Hotel Transylvania. Dracula’s rigid ‘monster-only’ hotel policy has finally been relaxed, opening up its doors to human guests. But Drac (Adam Sandler) is worried that his adorable, half-human, half-vampire, grandson, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) shows only his human side, with no evidence of his vampire quotient. Desperate to bring out the blood-sucker in Dennis, he packs off Dennis’ mother, his 125 year-old daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), and hubby Jonathan ‘Johnny’ (Andy Samberg) go to visit her human in-laws, in their hometown of Santa Cruz, California, while he works out a plan to make Dennis go batty (i.e., fly, in the true vampire tradition).

While Mavis is discovering the exciting ways of human life—from 48 flavors of slushies to the 24/7 mini-markets— ‘Vampa’ as he calls himself (vampire+grandpa, “That’s obvious”, he declares, derisively, twice), enlists his friends Frank (Frankenstein, Kevin James), Murray (Keagan Michale-Key, a mummy), Wayne (a werewolf, Steve Buscemi) and Griffin (David Spade, the invisible man), to put Dennis through a ‘monster-in-training’ boot camp, at the very same place where he had cut his teeth (fangs, to be accurate).  But soon, Mavis and Johnny will be back, and Drac’s grumpy and very old, old, old school dad, Vlad (Mel Brooks) will pay a visit to the hotel on Dennis’ birthday.  When he finds out that his great-grandson is not a pure vampire, and that humans are now welcome at Hotel Transylvania, Drac and family will have to face vampa-ire.

Robert Smigel (co-writer, co-producer Hotel Transylvania 1 and 2) and Adam Sandler have written this film, which has very little or nothing to do with the hotel in the title. Footloose and fancy-free, the script is full of puns and self-deprecating humour. There is no vampire ritual, not even the odd blood-sucking routine. Of course, the vamps eat and drink all kinds of live insect potions, and little Dennis gets licked, literally and frequently, by a loving werewolfina, who has a taste for him. Why do monsters need to travel in cars and planes defies reason. In a balancing act, Mavis goes gaga at discovering human life with all its small-town trappings, while Johnny tries to keep her, a vampire, away from ‘dangerous’ things like cycling pits. Parallel to this homecoming is the training imparted to Dennis by a bunch of jaded horror heroes, led by grandpa Dracula, while Dennis is unable to distinguish between Muppets and monsters. It’s a light-hearted attempt at de-demonising, even humanising, demons.

Russia-born, director Genndy (Gennadiy) Borisovich Tartakovsky (Hotel Transylvania) is a technician who knows his job, and excels in it. He lets loose a riot of colours, shapes, sizes, textures and sounds, at a break-neck pace, which does slacken towards the middle, but picks up again. Vlad’s extended, shifting double-chin is imaginative. The way Drac swishes in and out of walls, the scene wherein the hulky Frank tries to don one of Drac’s cape outfits, another where he removes his face and hold it in his hand and several moments in the road-trip of the gang evoke genuine laughs. Unfortunately, there is pretty little to say, so he concentrates, for the greater part, on generating laughs.

Adam Sandler (Men Women and Children, Pixels, The Cobbler, Blended) puts on an accent that could be anything between East European, Italian, Spanish and South American. Andy Samberg (Celeste and Jesse Forever, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Hotel Transylvania) is more than pure American, as expected. Selena Gomez (Rudderless, The Getaway, Monte Carlo, Hotel Transylvania) is almost totally human, in tone and emotion, Kevin James (Grown Ups, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Pixels) makes a funny Frank.

David Spade (Grown Ups 2, Hotel Transylvania) gets a part that is visually exciting, especially his invisible romantic indulgences. Steve Buscemi (Ghost World, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski) is the stooped werewolf who gets a funny reality check. Keagan Michale-Key’s Mummy has more visual humour than words. And then there is veteran Mel Brooks (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World Part I), now 89, and still in the business. You’ll be glad he’s Vlad (Ouch! That’s not great rhyming, but then the film has many such lines).

Now a word about Asher Blinkoff, who was five when he dubbed, and is now all of six years old. Born to Orthodox Jewish parents, he’s new to the job (no surprise, looking at his age), and the family was delighted to have him work with Jewish comedians Mel Brooks, Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, and a Jewish director to boot. The unit took care of his kosher food and Friday/Saturday holy day routines. He’s done a splendid job.

Hotel Transylvania 2 is not a five-star hotel, the staff is ‘horrorble’, and the food revolting, unless you happen to be a vampire. Nevertheless, it’s worth a 89-minute stay.

Rating: ***

Since this a film about characters that are in the age group of 125-1,000, it would not be out of place to mention a ‘humourror’ film from 1948 that I saw as a schoolboy, in 1962, and that left a real funny impression that has lasted to this day. It featured comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and was called Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. Just today, I found it rated **** and ****1/2 respectively, by two major film-reviewing websites, and on Wal-Mart, it’s a whopping *****, so I guess it might be worth a watch, even 67 years on.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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