Starting out as six single-parent children in search of a TV family, the Brady Bunch have turned into a multimedia conglomerate of daunting proportions.
Besides that original ABC series about the dad with three boys who married the mom with three girls, there has been an animated show, a pair of TV movies, two sequel series, numerous Brady books and even a successful stage production ("The Real Live Brady Bunch"). So is anyone surprised that "The Brady Bunch Movie" is now insisting on attention?
Though many have no doubt made the attempt, it doesn't require someone with a doctorate to analyze the reasons for the success of this resilient show. The Bradys were "Father Knows Best" for the 1970s, giving the children of divorce a fantasy family to focus on. And the fact that the Bradys' collective problems were so feeble they couldn't make the waiting list for "My So-Called Life" somehow added to their appeal.
Given all this, and how close the original shows are to self-parody, the creators of "The Brady Bunch Movie" have made a crafty decision. They've transplanted unreasonable facsimiles of the utopian Bradys to today's borderline dystopian Los Angeles and tried to figure out how they'd survive. The results, though hardly epochal, are more successfully silly than non-Brady fans will expect.
The San Fernando Valley, the Bunch's home base, has changed a lot in 25 years, but you'd never know that from the Bradys. Still the family that twinkles with sitcom perkiness, they remain blissful and oblivious to modernity, stuck like a stereo needle in the potent grooves of the '70s.
Architect father Mike (Gary Cole) continues to dress in the wide collars and impossible colors of those times, while wife Carol (Shelley Long) is still reading "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," helping long-suffering maid Alice (Henriette Mantel) with the shopping, and somehow finding time to organize sack races and family trips to Sears.
Not that the neighbors aren't doing things somewhat differently. Mr. Dittmeyer (Michael McKean) is a grasping Realtor who wants the Bradys to sell their house so he can turn the neighborhood into a mini-mall, and Mrs. Dittmeyer (Jean Smart) spends all of her time recovering from hangovers and trying to seduce those growing Brady boys.
Westdale High is different, too. When Greg (Christopher Daniel Barnes) says, "Hey there, groovy chick," people call him "dangerously retro," and the thoughts Marcia (Christine Taylor) arouses in pal Noreen (Alanna Ubach) go way past fraternal.
What the film's bunch of screenwriters (Laurice Elehwany & Rick Copp and Bonnie Turner & Terry Turner of "Wayne's World") have done is ratchet those familiar Brady character traits up a notch, making what was implicit explicit. So sister Jan (Jennifer Elise Cox) is so jealous of Marcia she starts to hear "Exorcist"-type voices in her head, and Mike's fatherly advice becomes so convoluted you really believe it when the kids say, "I never thought of it that way."
Directed by TV veteran Betty Thomas, this "Brady Bunch" is structured like a nearsighted Mr. Magoo cartoon, with the family continually careening toward near-disaster (mainly in the form of a property tax debt of $20,000), only to miraculously right itself in typical fashion at the last minute.
Though familiarity with the original show is not necessary to be diverted, the film has worked hard to capture the aura of its predecessors. The sets were constructed from the show's original blueprints and dressed with vintage props, and four of the old gang (most notably Florence Henderson and Ann B. Davis) make cameo appearances.
And not only does the new cast look uncannily like the original Bunch, the ensemble acting is uniformly right as well. "The Brady Bunch Movie" is never more than lightly amusing, but then neither was the TV show. And if all goes well, perhaps we'll next see the Bradys beamed up to the deck of the Starship Enterprise. That's about the only frontier they've neglected to explore.
* MPAA rating: PG-13 for racy innuendoes. Times guidelines: Its innuendoes are probably no racier than much of current TV.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
'The Brady Bunch Movie' Shelley Long: Carol Brady Gary Cole: Mike Brady Christopher Daniel Barnes: Greg Brady Christine Taylor: Marcia Brady Paul Sutera: Peter Brady Jennifer Elise Cox: Jan Brady Jesse Lee: Bobby Brady Olivia Hack: Cindy Brady A David Kirkpatrick/Sherwood Schwartz production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Betty Thomas. Producers Sherwood Schwartz, Lloyd J. Schwartz, David Kirkpatrick. Executive producer Alan Ladd, Jr. Screenplay Laurice Elehwany & Rick Copp and Bonnie Turner & Terry Turner. Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg. Editor Peter Teschner. Costumes Rosanna Norton. Music Steve Tyrell, Guy Moon. Production design Steven Jordan. Art directors William J. Durrell Jr., Nanci B. Roberts. Set decorator Lynn Wolverton-Parker. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.