In a previous post, I covered Sister Act featuring Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Maggie Smith (Clash of the Titans), and Kathy Najimy (Hocus Pocus). It is actually one of my favorite films because it sends out the right message: Life is not a party, or a game.
“If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention.”
According to The New York Times review:
Whoopi Goldberg must have an evil twin. The bad twin is the one who can’t stay out of the tabloids, one day being happily roasted with racial jokes at the Friars Club and the next offering a cookbook recipe for “Jewish American Princess Fried Chicken.” She may be tasteless but at least she’s interesting. It’s the good twin who surfaces in “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” and she’s pretty much a snooze.
Ms. Goldberg’s brash persona brought a whiff of mischief to the original “Sister Act,” in which she played a mediocre lounge singer, Deloris Van Cartier, forced to masquerade as Sister Mary Clarence. There was plenty of sentimental uplift at the end, but throughout Ms. Goldberg made it clear that a convent was the last place Deloris’s married, mobster boyfriend would find her.
The sequel suffers from a lame, saccharine premise and a fatally earnest manner. This time, Deloris is called back by her old convent cohorts when they can’t get through to their streetwise high-school students. “Help us by becoming a teacher,” implores Maggie Smith as Mother Superior. Before long Mary Clarence is entering her music class in a statewide choral competition and along the way saving the troubled school from becoming a parking lot.
Now Ms. Goldberg looks comfortable wearing a habit; no more penguin jokes for her. There is no irreverence here, and no sense of what street kids are like. Sister Mary Clarence’s supposedly belligerent students act out by putting glue on her chair. (In real life wouldn’t they just pull their guns on her?)
And if the movie seems muddled about high school, it is hopeless about music. The original “Sister Act” counted on hokey but catchy adaptations of girl-group songs. The sequel whizzes through a bit of everything from gospel to Motown to the tamest versions of rap ever recorded (they’re like rap lite). The movie may not intend to be creaky and condescending, but it flirts with the idea that rap is the devil’s music.
Bill Duke, who has directed much smarter films (“A Rage in Harlem”) as well as the syrupy Disney movie “The Cemetery Club,” is less at fault than the Up With People script. The returning nuns have little to do except walk through smaller versions of their old roles: Kathy Najimy is still the bubbly Sister Mary Patrick, Mary Wickes the tough Sister Mary Lazarus, and Wendy Makenna the meek Sister Mary Robert. Three fine character actors — Barnard Hughes, Michael Jeter and Brad Sullivan — are wasted as priests. And though Ms. Goldberg was reportedly paid $7 million to make this movie, she seems curiously low on energy, even when doing a James Brown impression.
The best part of “Sister Act 2” is the closing credits. The nuns bop around singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the priests are photographed from above while they lie on the floor doing a Busby Berkeley dance routine. Only then does this sequel hint at the gentle, entertaining satire of the original.
There is one conspicuous missed opportunity. Early on, the school’s misinformed headmaster tells Sister Mary Clarence what he has heard: “Your last posting was at a women’s prison in the Louisiana bayou.” Now that is a premise with possibilities.