Film review: Brady Bunch Movie, The

Feeble attempt to cash in on nostalgia falls flat with vulgar gags as '70s sitcom family copes with the '90s.

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

In the movie business, timing is everything. Who knows if "Forrest Gump" would have become a runaway phenomenon with a fall release, instead of coming out in the summer.

And placing "The Brady Bunch Movie" to arrive hot on the heels of "Billy Madison" and "The Jerky Boys" was a very wise move — it makes the Bradys look better. At least for the first couple of minutes.

As with "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Brady Bunch Movie" is just another weak attempt to hit our nostalgia buttons, while simultaneously lampooning the old TV series and its late '60s/early '70s sensibilities.

The gimmick here is that the Bradys are stuck in the '70s, while the world around them is definitely in the '90s. The Bradys are all sweetness and light, incessantly chipper and naive to a fault, while everyone around them is cynical, angry and mean-spirited.

To put this contrast on display, the filmmakers (TV veteran Betty Thomas directed from a screenplay by four writers) have chosen to include all kinds of cheap, vulgar sexual gags. Someone obviously thought this was a clever way of demonstrating how out-of-step the Bradys are, but it feels more like the result of desperation than creativity. (It also makes much of the movie unsuitable for youngsters.)

For those who may not know — if you've been in a cave for 25 years — the premise of "The Brady Bunch" is that a woman with three daughters and a man with three sons marry and bring their joint family together, a sort of "Yours, Mine and Ours"-TV sitcom style.

And the film's casting is pretty good, with young actors who resemble the six kids from the old show playing the appropriate roles. Shelley Long and Gary Cole are parents Carol and Mike, and cook/maid/all-around housekeeper and referee Alice is played by Henriette Mantel.

The film's central plot has the Bradys' Los Angeles home being threatened by redevelopment, as their next-door neighbor Ditmeyer (Michael McKean) schemes to force them out. If that's not enough, their property tax is overdue, so the Bradys must come up with $20,000 by the end of the week or see their home auctioned off. (Ditmeyer's alcoholic wife, who has eyes for Mike — and his sons — is played by Jean Smart, a real step down for the former star of TV's "Designing Women.")

While architect Mike tries to sell a design so his boss will advance him the $20,000, the kids work at all kinds of odd jobs to help raise money. And there are plenty of subplots that will be familiar to Bradyphiles, as the kids fight over their home's single bathroom, as teenage daughters Marcia and Jan vie for attention, as son Greg aspires to be a rock star, as daughter Cindy learns not to tattle and as Mike continually spouts confusing or bizarre homilies.

Meanwhile, the family spends its free time with potato sack races and square-dancing, and, of course, Alice waits for that wedding ring from her butcher boyfriend. (Surprisingly, it is Long who has the least amount of screen time here, though she does get to frequently flash that Florence Hen-derson smile.)

Along the way, there are very broad gags that seem to be shooting for that off-the-wall "Naked Gun"/"Hot Shots" feel; a number of jokes based entirely on the Bradys' '70s wardrobe, from mini-skirts to bell bottoms to bizarre color schemes (not to mention their astro-turf lawn); an appearance by cross-dresser RuPaul as a high school counselor; naive Marcia not realizing that her best friend is gay and has a crush on her; and a number of not-unexpected cameos, including former "Brady Bunch" cast members and three of The Monkees. (I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I'm probably the only person in the theater who got one of the gags associated with these cameos, as Ann B. Davis — the original "Alice" — plays a truck driver and refers to herself as "Schultzy," which was her character's name on "The Bob Cummings Show," a sitcom that predates "The Brady Bunch" by more than a decade!)

Unfortunately, none of this is either terribly original or especially amusing, and my guess is that only die-hard fans of the old series will care one way or the other.

Of course, I didn't think "The Beverly Hillbillies" would be a hit, either.

At this point, I must confess to being Brady-impaired, having never actually watched a complete "Brady Bunch" television episode, although I know enough about the film from peripheral culture-vision to understand what's going on.

But a bad movie is a bad movie — and "The Brady Bunch Movie" is a very bad movie.

"The Brady Bunch Movie" is rated PG-13 for comic violence, vulgarity and sexual innuendo.

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