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Yule regret ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’

November 3, 2017
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Holiday sequel all F-bombs, no feelings

Believe it or not, there’s still such a thing as a surprise hit movie.

Sure, we don’t get them as often as we used to. The new model is built around massively-budgeted franchises backed by huge marketing pushes – no one is shocked when a superhero movie does half-a-billion at the box office.

But we still get them, smaller movies that, through some combination of quality, content, timing and plain old luck, go on to wild and unanticipated success.

“Bad Moms” was one of those movies. The bawdy comedy landed in the middle of summer blockbuster season and simply took off, ultimately doing close to $190 million against a $20 million budget. It was a lovely convergence.

So of course there’s a sequel.

“A Bad Moms Christmas” is that unfortunate follow-up, a film that carries forward all of the crassness from its predecessor while phoning in the more sentimental aspects whose presence provided balance in the first go-round. The end result is a film that is coarse for the sake of coarseness, landing a few solid laughs but ultimately ringing rather hollow – a nicely-wrapped present with nothing inside.

Amy (Mila Kunis, “Jupiter Ascending”), Kiki (Kristen Bell, TV’s “The Good Place”) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn, TV’s “I Love Dick”) – the titular Bad Moms – are back. This time, it’s the holiday season; all three women are trying to prepare for the impending Christmas season. Each of them is dealing with the Yuletide pressures, but things get complicated when – wait for it – their MOMS show up!

Amy’s mom Ruth (Christine Baranski, TV’s “The Good Fight”) is controlling and cold, with outlandish expectations about Christmas that she foists onto her daughter and her hapless and amiable husband Hank (Peter Gallagher, “Literally, Right Before Aaron”). Sandy (Cheryl Hines, TV’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) is Kiki’s incredibly codependent and clingy mom, obsessed with integrating herself into every aspect of her daughter’s life with North Dakotan diligence. And Carla’s mom Isis (Susan Sarandon, TV’s “Feud”) is a hard-living degenerate gambler who only shows up when she needs money or to hide out.

Dealing with both the holiday season AND the presence of their respective mothers lead the Bad Moms down some difficult paths, with each of them forced to find a way to balance the needs of their families with what’s necessary for their own sanity. This involves a lot of drinking, cursing and otherwise questionable behavior.

But as these interfamilial conflicts churn, the reason for the season starts to get lost in the shuffle. The big question is whether the Bad Moms can deal with their own Bad Moms and put together a Christmas that their entire family will love.

You will not be surprised by how it all turns out.

There’s an emptiness at the heart of “A Bad Moms Christmas” that is particularly noticeable due to the fact that this is, well, a Christmas movie, the sort of movie that is supposed to be all about the gooey goodwill center that brings us all together and blah blah blah. And while lip service is paid to sentimentality, it feels forced and disingenuous, as if the filmmakers are simply marking time until the next F-bomb or genitalia joke.

Don’t get me wrong – there are definitely some laughs to be had here. Particularly if you – like me – are a fan of over-the-top crass language and lowbrow humor and cringe-inducing slapstick. There’s a TON of that stuff. And a fair amount of it made me laugh.

But that ultimately isn’t enough.

The writing/directing team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore certainly has a track record of doing well with these sorts of raunchy comedies. However, the duo also tends to be particularly susceptible to diminishing returns when they go back to a well. That seems to be the case here; there’s just not enough emotional engagement to serve as the foundation for all the crudity.

It’s hard to fault the cast – it’s a really talented group. One thing is obvious – Kunis, Bell and Hahn clearly adore one another. There’s a sense of joy that radiates from that trio when they’re together on screen. That counts for a lot, but it isn’t enough to make up for the baseline hollowness. You throw in massive talents like Baranski, Hines and Sarandon (all of whom are also having an obvious good time) and you should be able to overcome anything. You SHOULD, but you can’t. As for the dudes, Gallagher, Jay Hernandez and particularly Justin Hartley all have some good moments, but as you might expect, this one is all about the moms.

“A Bad Moms Christmas” isn’t a bad movie. You’ll almost certainly find a few moments that will make you laugh. Unfortunately, without any sort of emotional core to the film, a lot those laughs feel a bit more mean-spirited than they should – particularly in a Christmas movie. This one is the first cinematic shot at the holiday season, but it’s a dud. Forget Christmas – this movie might be gone from theaters by Thanksgiving.

[2 out of 5]

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