"HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA" — ★★ — The voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, CeeLo Green, David Spade; PG (some rude humor, action and scary images); in general release
It's not surprising that Sony Pictures Animation, the studio that brought us "Open Season," "Surf's Up" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," is behind yet another generic and altogether forgettable effort with "Hotel Transylvania."
While the story flirts with possibly compelling themes, it doesn't have the courage to explore any, which ultimately leaves audiences with a safe but pointless offering for the Halloween season.
Beginning in 1894, an Adam Sandler-voiced Dracula loses his wife and castle to a torch-wielding mob of humans. Forced then to raise his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) alone, Dracula vows to never let a similar fate befall his family, creating a monster-only refuge where he hopes he and Mavis can stay together forever.
But like all 117-year-old teenagers, Mavis is ready to explore the world and wonders if maybe her father isn't being a little too hard on humankind.
On her 118th birthday, as monster guests from around the world begin rolling in to celebrate with the Dracula family, one uninvited and strangely likable human, Jonathan (Andy Samberg), crashes the party. Fearing that Mavis will discover there are actually nonmurdering humans, Dracula disguises Jonathan as one of Frankenstein's relatives, using every predictable gag you'd expect from a hidden identity subplot.
With the exception of bringing Universal's monster library together, a feat I don't believe we've seen since the 1987 teen comedy "Monster Squad," there's nothing new to see in "Hotel Transylvania." Sony Animation has become a kind of cover band for film, trying to re-dress tired stories with new characters, hoping audiences will like their movies because they're familiar and not because they're interesting.
Younger audiences will probably enjoy themselves as Sandler carries on with his hammy Count Chocula impression, but older audiences will fill their time noticing the many options "Hotel Transylvania" should have explored. Writers Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel, Sandler and Sony regulars, weren't interested in such exploration, however, and instead chose to fill screen time with the usual flatulence-and-behinds comedy even kids stopped laughing at 10 years ago.
If you're someone who usually pays the extra cash for the 3-D experience, you may want to reconsider here. Most of "Hotel Transylvania" takes place within the castle, leaving very few scenes to capitalize on the technology. And, as with the rest of the film, when the movie does have the opportunity to show you something amazing, it simply chooses not to.
Parents won't need to worry about darker themes or characters, since the movie isn't interested in the "Nightmare Before Christmas" or "Coraline" audiences. However, they might find themselves explaining why a naked invisible man is powdering his rear end in the mirror.
Though riddled with potentially compelling themes, "Hotel Transylvania" chooses to play it safe with its substitute blood-sucking, walled-up version of Dracula. That's not necessarily a bad thing if you're just looking for a 90-minute break from Halloween shopping, but just remember to go in with your expectations low, and you won't walk out disappointed.
"Hotel Transylvania" is rated PG for some rude humor, action and scary images; running time: 90 minutes.