The completely unexpected success of this film version of the '70s family sitcom—and, yes, The Brady Bunch Movie must be reckoned a success—can be credited to the clever spin it puts on the original's Plasticine awfulness. All the performances here send up the smiling opacity that passed for acting in the old series. Thus, Long (whose pixie wig, emphasizing her tapered neck, makes her look like a dancing ostrich from Fantasia) is doing Florence Henderson doing Carol Brady—a series of idiotic reaction shots—while Cole is doing Robert Reed doing Mike Brady, etc. These Bradys move with pathetic, self-conscious clunkiness around the same tacky house that the TV Bradys occupied, but the rooms look even uglier blown up to movie proportions—the Bradys invade Versailles! And when they laugh, it is at, not with, the groaningly unfunny dialogue, much of it lifted from old episodes. This is the humor of condescension, but there's something to be said for letting an audience feel superior. Heartless laughter cleanses us and makes us eager to face new tomorrows.
Besides, director Betty Thomas and a team of writers have added a light sarcastic veneer of running gags (Mike Brady's architectural designs all look like his sloping-roofed home). And then there's Jennifer Elise Cox as Jan Brady. Cox has the peculiar metallic delivery of the first Jan, the immortal Eve Plumb, but the wild rolling of eyes, the gangly physical comedy, the hysteria (escalating into paranoia) of her plight as a middle child—those are Cox's. In its pubescent way, hers is as absurdly funny a turn as Dianne Weist's in Bullets over Broadway.
All that said, what we have is still a movie about the Brady Bunch. It probably won't make much sense to people unfamiliar with the series. And even dyed-in-the-cotton-polyester-blend Bradyphiles may grow tired of the movie's deliberate triteness. I zoned out around the time Mike took the whole family to Sears. (PG-13)