Film Review: Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Any hopes that genius Genndy Tartakovsky, finally writing as well as directing, would imbue this animated sequel with his trademark blend of subversive wit and loving homage are quickly dashed on the rocks of ordinariness.
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An adequate enough time-killer for parents bringing very young children—who in a press screening rarely laughed but may well have been transfixed—this third animated outing about a hotel-owning Count Dracula (voice of Adam Sandler) and various friendly monsters behaving just like your neighbors next door is a barrage of predictable gags tied to a tedious plot. If you're feeling like werewolves Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shannon), who are desperate for something, anything, to amuse their demanding offspring, well, this is something, anything. But not more.

And it could have been, I would like to believe, since director and co-writer Genndy Tartakovsky is a visionary whose 1990s TV creation "Dexter's Laboratory" was a landmark of wit and distinctive style. After having directed the first two Hotel Transylvania films (2012 and 2015), Tartakovsky finally had a chance to be a writer on this third. Yet aside from a witty montage near the start of the movie and sparks of his cheeky, goodhearted subversiveness later on, most of Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is bludgeoningly broad and obvious.

Sometimes it's even unaccountably redundant: At a cruise-ship theme restaurant, Drac's human son-in-law Johnny (Andy Samberg) pulls a menu out of a bottle and tells everyone there's a menu in a bottle; he surfs atop a dolphin and tells us he's dolphin surfing. Even a six-year-old doesn't need to be told what right in front his or her own eyes. And sometimes the movie picks odd targets: Drac's aged father Vlad (the always welcome Mel Brooks) parades on the ship's deck in a skimpy Speedo, flirting with a trio of grotesque old witches, whose hearts flutter as if he were a heartthrob hunk. So the joke is that, ha ha, ugly old people can feel desire. Leaving aside the demeaning quality at the joke's essence, I'm not sure old people in lust are among the top things kids find funny.

Indeed, adults in lust—glossed over as love-at-first-sight, soul-mate "zinging"—is the movie's main narrative. Now that Dracula's vampire daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) is married with a kid, the widowed Drac realizes how lonely he is. Mavis, thinking her dad's mopey restlessness is the result of overwork, arranges a cruise getaway not only for her own family but for all of his hotel's guests, including Frankenstein's monster (Kevin James) and his bride (Fran Drescher), invisible man Griffin (David Spade), Murray the mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), Blobby the blog (Tartakovsky) and others. The monsters in the Spectrum cable company's TV commercials, however, remain wittier and given more interesting and original characterizations than most of those here except for Wayne and Wanda, whose conception as exhausted parents who have surrendered all hope of meaningful lives has been a tragicomic highlight of the series from the start.

Drac sets his sights on the ship's captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), who we quickly learn is the great-granddaughter of vampire-hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan)—still alive as a head on a steampunk contraption—and that the whole setup is a trap to destroy monsters once and for all. An Indiana Jones-like death-trap sequence is well-directed, the movie's visuals are often epic, and there's welcome emotional depth once Mavis finds her father and Ericka together. But until that point it's mostly wearisome going-through-the-motions and lazy plot turns like giant dog Tinkles, who doesn't speak human language, suddenly and inexplicably speaking human language when that helps a thing happen, and then not again. And I'm not sure why the message "Beach Boys good," "house music bad.