The more everything changes the more they stay the same.
In the early/middle 1990s, there was a boom in turning retro TV shows into feature length films. This trend was met with little success and much failure; while movies like The Addams Family and Wayne's World soared, flops like The Beverly Hillbillies and Car 54, Where Are You? abounded. And don't even get me started on all those Saturday Night Live spin-offs. One mild success story was 1995's The Brady Bunch Movie, based on the cult classic TV show from the 1970s. In 1996, a sequel would appear, aptly titled A Very Brady Sequel. Both films are back to scare the bell bottoms off you in their first ever DVD incarnation, care of Paramount Home Entertainment. Groovy!
Facts of the Case
The Brady Bunch Movie: In their first outing since the '70s, Mike (Gary Cole) and Carol Brady (Shelly Long) are about to face their biggest challenge to date: the IRS! It appears that the Brady's owe $20,000 in back taxes on their house and will be forced to auction it off if they can't come up with the cash. Perpetually stuck in the '70s (while the rest of the world marches into the 21st century), the Bradys continue to radiate an upbeat attitude even in desperate times. Even as they attempt to come up with the money and fend off the financial advances of their neighbor, Mr. Ditmeyer (Michael McKean), who is trying to get them to sell their home, the Brady's manage to face insurmountable odds. These obstacles include Greg's desires to be rock star Johnny Bravo, Marcia's frustrations at her broken nose, and the persistent voices ringing in Jan's head. Can the Brady Bunch save the 1990s with their kitschy 1970s charm?
A Very Brady Sequel: Yes, the Brady bunch is back, and this time they're about to come face to face with their past: Carol Brady's long lost husband! Thought dead in a brutal tropical storm, Roy (a funny and confused Tim Matheson) returns to the Brady household to reclaim his beautiful (well, in a very Formica kind of way) wife Carol. Because they're the Bradys, Mike and Carol are warm and inviting…even though we all know that Roy isn't really who he says he is! However, this doesn't stop the Brady kids from ogling over him and asking him every inane question under the sun. Intent on acquiring the antique horse that's been sitting in the Brady's living room for years (it's worth $20 million!), Roy attempts to assimilate into the Brady household while Carol and Mike fret over the infractions Roy's presence might have on their marriage. All the while Bobby and lisp-lipped Cindy play detective, Jan attempts to find herself a boyfriend, and Marcia and Greg fight off the desires of the flesh with the realization that they may not be sister and brother in the biblical sense. But hey, it's the Brady bunch…in the end it's gonna be a sunshine day!
I don't think I'll ever understand the popularity of The Brady Bunch when it appeared on TV in the early 1970s. Oh, I can understand the appeal in 2003—the show is so idealistic and sappy that it nearly begs to be stamped with the words "cult classic." But who was actually watching this stuff back in the '70s? Parents? Kids? Refrigerator mold? I guess someone enjoyed the show since it garnered a six season run (1969-1974), countless spin-offs (cartoons, Christmas specials, a variety hour, et cetera), and tons of memorabilia (you mean that you don't have a Greg Brady lunch pail? Loser!). In short, The Brady Bunch was and still is a phenomenon of epic proportions.
The best way to go with a feature length movie well over twenty years after the show's cancellation was to throw the Bradys into the 1990s while still permanently stuck in a 1970s bubble. And that's just what the filmmakers did. In the original Brady Bunch Movie, director Betty Thomas (Private Parts, 28 Days), with the help of her four screenwriters, attempted to mash together the Brady's plastic innocence with the grunge-induced cynicism of the 1990s. Surprisingly, it works—The Brady Bunch Movie includes dozens of little moments that made me smile from ear to ear. Witness a scene where Greg and Marsha are told that they're in the middle of a "car-jack." Except Greg notes that "Of course this is a car. But my name's not Jack, it's Greg." This vacuous indifference to the world around them is what makes both The Brady Bunch Movie and The Brady Bunch Movie work so well—the Bradys don't have a clue.
In the first film, we have all the participants doing what I assume is the best impersonation of these characters we're ever likely to see. Gary Cole's tone inflection on Mike Brady (originally played by Robert Reed on the TV show) is downright creepy—he sounds exactly like a facsimile of the first Mike Brady. And how can you not crack at least half a smile when he doles out inane advice like "wherever you go, there you are." Shelley Long, no stranger to sitcom stardom after her role as Diane Chambers on the long running Cheers, also does an hysterically great job as Mike's doting wife Carol (her mantra: "Oh Mike, what are we going to do?"). Rounding out the adults is Henriette Mantel as everyone's favorite housekeeper Alice (her eyes roll, bug, and blink so often that you'd swear she was struggling with a bout of ocular Parkinson's). Though the children didn't need as much talent to inhabit their characters, a few of them rise to the challenge with funny results. Christine Taylor's (Ben Stiller's wife) frosted lips and flowing hair give the egotistic Marsha an extra added touch. Christopher Daniel Barnes' Greg rivals the "I'm a man and chicks dig me" attitude displayed by Barry Williams (who, along with Ann B. Davis, Christopher Knight, and Florence Henderson, also makes a guest appearance in the first film). All in all the movie's success depended on the actors impersonating the originals to a tee—and they all are able to pull it off.
Both The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel sport a lot of sexual innuendo, drug gags, and cornball jokes. The humor in both of these movies comes from the characters saying one thing and (maybe? possibly?) meaning another. When Mike is told to "put his bookmark in" before going to bed, I'll give you three guesses what that means—and the first two don't count. While I enjoyed both of these movies, I think that A Very Brady Sequel scored higher on the laugh scale due to the funny story (who wasn't curious about Mrs. Brady's first husband?) and the darker humor permeating the screenplay (when Roy decides to kidnap Carol, Marsha exclaims, "Don't take Mom. Take Jan!"). Though both films are far from the humor of Charles Addams, it's nice to see the writers injecting a little bit of spice into what originally was a cutesy sitcom.
Out of all the TV-to-movie flicks floating around out there, The Brady Bunch movies are heads and shoulders above most efforts. After sitting through both of them again, I can't say that they're comic gems—a few of the jokes hit stale notes and some of the novelty has worn off. However, if you were one of the countless millions who grew up watching the Brady's in reruns, both of these movies are for you.
Both The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Though neither of these transfers look as if they were shot in the Bradys' home turf of 1973, generally speaking they aren't fantastic. Though the colors and black levels are mostly solid, the transfers seem slightly dull. Imperfections and flaws are at a minimal (only a few edge halos and a slight amount of grain was present) and each transfer appears to be in decent shape. However, because of the flat camera shots and movements (intentionally reminiscent of the TV show), the transfer doesn't seem to have much life to it. Then again, it is nice to see both of these films finally on DVD (with the sequel faring only slightly better than the original).
The soundtracks are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. I was surprised at how clear and fine these mixes ended up being—though there aren't a ton of surround sounds or directional effects, the dialogue, music, and effects are all crisply recorded. The biggest boost on both tracks came from the music score and rock songs (on the first film it's heavily alternative music) and the bouncy Brady theme that permeates both of the stories. All aspects of both The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel are free of any hiss or distortion. Also included on both films are English subtitles, as well as soundtracks in Dolby Digital Stereo (French) and Dolby 2.0 Surround (English).
You'll not hear me sing the praises of Paramount in this review—both The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel are void of any and all extra features. Without even a single theatrical trailer, these two discs are a disappointment. It's as if Sam the butcher himself trimmed these DVDs down to size, and all we're left with is a bare bones set. Sigh…Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!
Although I wasn't crazy about Paramount's treatment of these two discs, I am glad to finally see them show up on DVD. Yes, some of the jokes are a little off and corny, but I suppose that's in keeping with whole Brady tradition. The bottom line: if you like The Brady Bunch Movie, you'll be sure to enjoy the slightly funnier A Very Brady Sequel.
Yank out the astro-turf and comb the shag carpet…the Bradys are finally on DVD! Everyone's acquitted!
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