I can’t think of another recent movie title that serves as its own review. If you say it just right, you’ll get the idea: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Mind you, I enjoyed the screen adaptation of the ABBA show Mamma Mia! It had a highly attractive cast, representing two generations, a cornucopia of infectious songs, all imaginatively staged against a backdrop of gorgeous Greek scenery. It may not have been innovative or intellectual but it certainly was fun.

This one is a sequel/prequel, or more specifically a clone, with everything those words represent: repetition (both good and bad), an expanded younger cast and all the “mature” performers we saw last time around. Like so many screen follow-ups, this one coasts on the good will of its predecessor with less-than-inspired results.

Lily James plays a younger version of the Meryl Streep character from the initial story, falling in love with a beautiful Greek island and three handsome hunks who cross her path. In a parallel modern-day story, Amanda Seyfreid is Streep’s daughter, who is pregnant and determined to pay tribute to her mother by reopening her “dream” hotel on the island.

James dominates the first hour of the film, singing a selection of B-level ABBA tunes; in fact, the only rousing songs in this film are reprises of the Swedish group’s biggest hits (“Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” “Fernando”) that were also highlights of Movie No. One. James is beautiful and charismatic but always seems to be posing for the camera.

One by one, all the familiar characters from the first movie show up, uttering dialogue out of the Cliche Handbook and joining in song. But it doesn’t add up to much. The much-heralded arrival of Cher at the end is treated like the Second Coming, and the superstar gets to warble two songs, one with a surprise lover from her past, the other as a kind of curtain call for a film that doesn’t really have a finale. The highlight here is a lovely duet featuring the spirit of Meryl Streep joining her daughter, Seyfried, as the latter‘s baby is about to be christened.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again somehow required the services of three writers (Richard Curtis, director Ol Parker, and the Mamma Mia playwright Catherine Johnson). I hope they were well paid. The result is a visually appealing, thoroughly innocuous movie that you could safely take your grandmother to see. But I predict that it will have the staying power of Grease 2.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024