Beating the odds would appear to be “The Brady Bunch’s” stock in trade. This paean to the wholesome American family was a six-season television success at the height of the protest movement. It successfully was transferred to screen in early 1995, grossing more than $ 45 million. And now, for the hat trick, it has spawned the highly entertaining “A Very Brady Sequel.” Prospects for the new outing are upbeat, though it continues to be a very American idiom that’s virtually unfathomable to an overseas audience. But the modestly produced production should come close to equaling the commercial record of the first screen venture and bring home the bacon domestically.
The conceit employed for the cinematic Bradys remains intact: Within the confines of their split-level ranch house, the styles, attitudes and lingo of the series are unaltered 25 years later, but just beyond the fence is a contemporary reality.
In the new installment, Carol’s (Shelley Long) first husband, an archaeologist presumed lost at sea, returns unexpectedly. Roy Martin (Tim Matheson) says the fateful expedition left him an amnesiac, wandering aimlessly. An elephant stepped on his head, necessitating elaborate plastic surgery that has rendered him physically unrecognizable, taller and with a deeper voice. Carol claims his soul is unchanged, and that’s good enough for new hubby Mike (Gary Cole), who insists Roy bunk with the bunch.
But the pic’s prologue — an Indiana Jones homage — has tipped that Roy’s an impostor searching for an ancient carved horse from a Chinese dynasty that the real Roy sent home prior to his untimely demise. The Bradys have no idea it’s worth millions — Carol thinks it might fetch $50 at a charity auction for her women’s club.
There’s an interesting dynamic of double-edged peril at play here. The Bradys have let a desperate man, capable of murder, into their midst. On the other hand , until he can grab the statue, Roy is very much in jeopardy himself: His very sanity is at risk from a lethal dosage of unfettered sweetness.
Director Arlene Sanford and her first-rate cast make “A Very Brady Sequel” work by keeping a stony face. There’s a solid shield around the clan that even a nuclear load of irony cannot penetrate. The juxtapositions between their wholesomeness and the real world provide delight in both obvious and unexpected gags.
Considering the source, pic is surprisingly hip. Double entendres abound, and references to pop culture and TV lore are rife. Zsa Zsa Gabor trades on recent notoriety, and Richard Belzer pops up uncredited as the type of cop he plays on “Homicide.”
The story itself slows and goes slightly off course as the family pursues the kidnapped Carol to Hawaii. But this is a mere cavil about an otherwise entertaining diversion. Overall, the sequel is not quite as assured as the previous pic, nor does it fully exploit the visual possibilities inherent in the situation. Still, it’s a considerably better second installment than one usually encounters.
The returning Brady actors understand the shtick perfectly. Cole anchors the piece, donning bygone togs and effortlessly invoking his character’s mushy, meandering homilies. Matheson, in a welcome screen return, is his apt foil — a master of sarcasm saddled with a sampling of humanity who neither gets the joke nor realizes one’s being proffered.
The filmmakers have been smart about maintaining the integrity of “The Brady Bunch Movie.” But one suspects that the situation has been thoroughly milked and that it would be pushing one’s luck to rush into a third family reunion.