PLOT Two generations of mothers clash during the holidays.
CAST Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Susan Sarandon
RATED R (sexual humor and language)
BOTTOMLINE An exceptional cast, but this routine seasonal comedy feels store-bought.
When the writers of “The Hangover” re-tailored their debauched comedy to fit a trio of suburban mothers and re-titled it “Bad Moms,” few would have expected positive results.
Starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn as women who decide to rebel against the straitjackets of motherhood — school functions, bake sales, raising perfect children — 2016’s “Bad Moms” was surprisingly funny and, even more shocking, rather sweet. It genuinely empathized with its characters and got us to do the same, a rare quality in an R-rated comedy these days.
The magic isn’t entirely gone but it’s in much shorter supply in the inevitable sequel, “A Bad Moms Christmas.” It feels like a bit of a rush job from writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who begin with an appealing idea — what if the Bad Moms’ own moms dropped by for the holidays? — but fall back on formula to execute it. “A Bad Moms Christmas” is pretty typical of Hollywood seasonal fare: a fine cast and a few passable moments, but the material is more miss than hit.
There’s no denying the original three actresses are well matched to their on-screen moms. Kunis’ Amy, the film’s divorced Everymom, is the daughter of Christine Baranski’s Ruth, a status-conscious perfectionist who bribes her way into her grandchildren’s hearts (“Here, kids, have some breakfast candy”). Bell’s Kiki, the group’s wide-eyed pollyanna, worries that her mom, Sandy (Cheryl Hines), is becoming clingy to the point of obsession. And Hahn’s hard-drinking Carla gets paired up with Susan Sarandon’s Isis, an unreformed rock-and-roller with a cowboy hat and an ever-present spliff.
The first third of “A Bad Moms Christmas” is pretty lazy — it’s almost entirely montage — but things improve when the movie digs into mother-daughter dynamics. The new characters are still too broadly drawn for us to really believe in, particularly Sandy, who innocently likes to watch her daughter make love. Still, at least Lucas and Moore haven’t completely forgotten what made the first film so special.
Hahn once again gets the best moments as Carla. Her shy romance with a male stripper (Justin Hartley) strikes just the right balance of crude and cute. A little more of that magic mix could have made “A Bad Moms Christmas” a real treat.