Summertime brings with it the usual bevy of tent pole blockbusters and indie darlings, each scrapping for audience’s hard-earned dollars each and every Friday. Many of these films offer a chance at delicious distraction from the world at large, but sometimes – just sometimes – what you need is a movie that will neither terrify nor challenge, one that will excite without over-stimulating, one you can take the kids to see where you can rest easy for 90-minutes of peace. For that, dearest readers, take delight in the third installment of the Adam Sandler-led Hotel Transylvania series which continues the adventures of Count Dracula, his family, and the cadre of monsters that make-up the guests of Drac’s hotel. A word of caution for the uninitiated: returning director Genndy Tartakovsky wastes no time getting into the story, so if you’re unfamiliar with the characters and relationships, you’re going to spend the bulk of your time confused. Your best bet is to go into Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation knowing that it’s pure cinematic comfort food that’ll keep the kids distracted long enough for the adults to catch a break.
Monster hotel owner/operator Drac (Sandler) has everything an immortal being could want. He runs a successful business with his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her husband Johnny (Andy Samberg), while his grandson Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) runs about the grounds with best friend Winnie (Sadie Sandler). When he’s not helping guests relax or pulling off celebrations to remember, Drac’s hanging with his friends Wayne the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), and Frank (Kevin James). However, making everyone else’s lives happy just makes the loneliness he feels since the death of his wife more poignant. Misinterpreting that sadness for stress, Mavis books the whole family – even Granddad Vlad (Mel Brooks) – on a monster cruise with stops in locations mystical and exotic to help Drac relax and offer a chance for the family to reconnect. What no one expects is for the cruise’s lovely captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) to steal Drac’s heart, or to be hiding a secret that threatens them all.
Tartakovsky and co-writer Michael McCullers (The Boss Baby) present a story fans of the Hotel Transylvania series will delight in. From joke call-backs to check-ins with character favorites, Summer Vacation offers breezy entertainment that serves up a few moments that viewers young and old will find amusing. For the kids, there’s physical comedy, Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner-style competitive mishaps, and the standard monster POV that upends the way audiences see the world. For the adults, there’re a couple of jokes about the difficulty of parenting, including an admittedly clever joke involving Wayne and Wanda dropping their uncontrollable pack of children off at the cruise’s Kids Club that is sure to provide a sense of parental solidarity. Though the rest of the film is fairly predictable, the cleverness with which the script sets up joke after joke never feels like you’re getting beaten over the head; rather, you can’t help but be charmed just a little. (Come on, there’s a Kraken voiced by Joe Jonas that welcomes the cruise ship to the lost city of Atlantis Vegas-style.)
For all the good, though, Summer Vacation is little more than loose narrative with a series of comedic vignettes that tie it all together. That’s not a large problem per se when executed well, which Summer Vacation does, but it’s also not enough to really feel like there’s a story of growth or purpose. Additionally, Summer Vacation doesn’t attempt to stretch itself in any way that feels new. The first film bore its drama from the conflict between humans and monsters, while the second installment continued that narrative thread as it explored whether grandson Dennis was more monster or human. The third entry’s focus on Drac finding love again – a conflicting narrative point established in the first film – just doesn’t hold the same narrative weight as the previous two, so the stakes never feel very high or the danger very real.
Without a doubt, no one that goes to see Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is expecting anything more than 90-minutes of mind-numbing silliness and that’s exactly what they’ll get. It may not break down barriers or explore deep themes, but the Hotel Transylvania series is surprisingly clever in the way it plays with expectations – jokes going one way instead of another – and, while mostly forgettable, is a delightful respite from tediousness of reality. Sandler has two areas of excellence – high drama and kids’ comedy – and there’s not a single ounce of real drama in all of Summer Vacation. So grab your kids, buy your tickets, and have yourself a little bit of peace while enjoying little bit of fun in the air-conditioning.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.