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The Addams Family has one foot in the grave

THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Written by Caroline Thompson

and Larry Wilson.

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.

Starring Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston,

Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci.

Now playing at the Loews Cheri.

By DEBORAH A. LEVINSON

THE ADDAMS FAMILY HAD SUCH potential. With a cast of stars such as Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston and Christopher Lloyd, and a plot based on a goofy television show, how could it fail?

Somehow, it does. Certainly, The Addams Family is a good time, if not an entirely worthwhile way to spend $6.75. But for a film that cost over $40 million, I expected a little more than a ridiculous plot (even by the television show's standards), poor continuity and nearly non-existent editing.

The acting is one of the best parts of the film. Julia and Huston, alias the suave Gomez Addams and his ghoulish wife, Morticia, play their characters with real style. John Astin and Carolyn Jones only had the small screen to work with -- Julia and Huston, given free rein, embody Gomez and Morticia with eroticism, grace, humor, and, above all, the playful morbidity that gives the film more than a bit of charm.

Christopher Lloyd and Dan Hedaya do what they can with their respective one-note roles of Uncle Fester and Tully, but Christina Ricci is the find of this film. As Wednesday, the Addams' pallid, severe daughter, Ricci nearly steals the movie, her deadpan exterior hiding a heart of pure evil. Whether strapping her pudgy brother Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) into the family electric chair for a friendly game of "Is There a God?" to requesting Girl Scout cookies only if they are "made of real Girl Scouts," Ricci is a babysitter's worst nightmare.

The Addams Family scores high on attention to detail as well. At least three scenes, including the gleeful anti-Christmas-spirit opener, originate in Charles Addams' cartoons. The Addams mansion, especially its treasure vault, would make the designers of the spookiest carnival haunted house jealous. And the special effects -- notably those that bring to life the disembodied hand, Thing (Christopher Hart), and the David Letterman-esque ThingCam, where the audience races down the corridors at Thing's-eye, er, -finger view -- are spectacular.

It's the editing that buries The Addams Family. Admittedly, this is director Barry Sonnenfeld's first film, but given Sonnenfeld's experience as director of photography on three Coen brothers films (Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple and Raising Arizona), where editing counts for everything, one would think that he would know which frames to keep and which frames to toss. Instead, scenes are often mistimed, disorganized or, as in the case of the climactic conflict, go on far too long, losing all effectiveness. Sonnenfeld could have delivered a film that packed laugh after laugh with a rapid-fire punch; instead, his Addams Family has one foot in the grave.