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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 24, 2014

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"Hotel Transylvania" checks into theaters today.
"Hotel Transylvania" checks into theaters today.

Hold off on a visit to "Hotel Transylvania"

I don't think it's unfair to be hesitant when Adam Sandler's name is attached to a movie these days. He's turned his career into a magnet for stinkbombs (Do we really need to rehash "Jack and Jill" or "That's My Boy?"), so he only has himself to blame when his new projects meet with my skepticism.

"Hotel Transylvania," however, was kind of a combo-buster. While he's done animation ("Eight Crazy Nights") and kids movies ("Bedtime Stories"), this animated kids movie doesn't leave a lot of room for Sandler's typical schtick. Better yet, he didn't have a hand in writing it. Overcoming any of Sandler's potential influence must have been a lot of work, though, since the resulting movie barely clocked in above average.

Reviving the "monsters are people, too" mentality of Disney Pixar's "Monsters, Inc.," Sony's "Hotel Transylvania" is named for a remote, lavish resort hotel for monsters run by Count Dracula (voiced by Sandler). His faithful clientele include Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his bride (Fran Drescher), wolf-people Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shannon), Murray the Mummy (CeeLo Green) and other assorted scaremongers looking for a people-free place to let loose.

When he's not busy catering to his guests, Dracula has his hands full with a spirited teenage daughter named Mavis (Selena Gomez). Haunted by visions of angry villagers with torches and pitchforks, Dracula has kept Mavis tucked away in the confines of the hotel her whole life in an effort to keep her safe, but now that she's reached her 118th birthday Mavis is intent on discovering the outside world. (Don't ask me to explain the vampire aging logic. The best I can do is rationalize a cross between "Twilight" rules and dog years.)

Dracula, luckily, has devised a plan to trick Mavis into sticking around. But, just as things start to look up, a young human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles into the hotel and inadvertently throws a wrench into Dracula's scheme – and Hotel Transylvania's sparkling reputation. To help keep things in check, Dracula disguises Jonathan as one of the hotel's many monster guests.

There are plenty of funny moments as his plan to keep Jonathan under the radar backfires and he's forced to pile on more fake explanations and watch futilely as the guests (and especially Mavis) take an immediate shine to the cool new guy. The comedy is focused mostly around Dracula and Jonathan's old school/new school dynamic, which helps balance out the obligatory "monster things aren't scary to monsters" humor.

The funny bits do their best to help color up the story, which is ultimately about Dracula coming to grips with the fact that his little girl isn't a little girl anymore. It's heartwarming, but in an innocuous way that even the best jokes can't make up for. "Hotel Transylvania" has its moments – and they are pretty entertaining at times – but they can wait for DVD.

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