Movie Review: Second time’s not the Charm for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

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You only get to sweep us off our feet once, and expecting to do it again is just…greedy.

Where the guiding light in the original musical, “Mamma Mia!,” was the disco-era delights of Abba, the sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” takes it cue from another disco queen — Andrea True. As in “More, More More, How do you like it?”

Not nearly as much.

The many many songs are mostly forgettable deep tracks from the Abba repertoire, as the first film burned through most of the hits. Not that some of those aren’t reprised.

The cast is VASTLY expanded — double the number of Oscar winners —  as the story takes us into the past, when “Mamma” (played by Meryl Streep in the first film) was is a young coed in search of her “destiny” in Greece, tumbling for three different young men in the process. The production numbers, choreographed by Anthony Von Laast, involve a sea full of Greeks, an army of dancing French waiters, restaurant patrons and staff dressed as Napoleon.

And they’ve killed off “Mamma,” for Pete’s sake. Donna (Streep) has been dead a year, daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is finishing up the quaint Greek Island hotel mom always dreamed of. “Grand opening” or not, there’s a pall cast over the whole affair.

It’s not helped a lot by the cleverly integrated flashbacks, where Lily James of “Downton Abbey” is the young Donna raving up Oxford graduation with her Donna and the Dynamos pals (Jessica Keenan Wynn is the young Tanya/Christine Baranski, Alexa Davies the young Rosie/Julie Walters) doing the little known “When I Kissed the Teacher.”

Donna sets out across Europe seeking adventure and romance. That leads her to the charmingly awkward and virginal Harry (Hugh Skinner as the younger Colin Firth), the dashing Swedish sailor/writer Bill (the Bjorn Borgish Josh Dylan as the young Stellan Skarsgaard) and the more romantic but spoken for Sam (Jeremy Irvine as the young Pierce Brosnan).

As the movie bounces through “Angeleyes” and “Kisses of Fire,” we’re reminded that English wasn’t the Swedish quartet’s first language, and there’s a reason most of these syntax-slaughtering groaners and filler didn’t make the “Abba Gold” hits package.

Still, I liked what they did with “Andante, Andante,” and turning the title tune into a lament (sung by James) is a smart play.

So was casting James as the Boho young Donna,  a pre-Jane Fonda Workout Video/pre-“heroin chic” beauty with voluptuous curves and hair that she works, onstage, like a rock star.

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Seyfried can’t carry this show by herself, Dominic Cooper (as Sophie’s great love) has little to play. So Andy Garcia makes a smoldering  “The Most Interesting Man in…Greece” manager for the hotel, Señor Cienfuegos, who makes the other older Dynamos’ hearts skip a beat. You already know the big guest star, Cher, as grandma, and she gets a couple of age-appropriate numbers.

Celia Imrie is a singing, dancing vice-chancellor at Oxford (Or was it Cambridge?), Hélène Cardona amuses as a taverna proprietress and Omid Djalili (“The Infidel,” rent it) all but steals the picture as a ferry ticket agent we watch age, from then to now, always with droll commentary on the principals and their appearances.

I mention all these peripheral delights because the young men cast as younger versions of the cream of dashing European leading men fail to impress. Random gags work, but none of the new additions sing any better than the fellows they allegedly grow up to be — Firth, Skarsgaard and especially Brosnan.

And for a movie set in sunny, touristy Greece, “Here We Go Again” is absurdly sound-stagey. Fake backgrounds abound, static staging (Cher needs it) with little movement, with other scenes positively overrun with movement.

The odd big outdoor show-stopper is as rare as funny lines for ANY of the leads. Director Ol Parker, of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” should go by “Fusty Ol Parker” after this one.

“Mamma Mia,” this time around, isn’t so much bad as dispirited. It finishes well, for instance, and then goes on beyond that big finish to spoil even that.

For all the over-the-top choreography and the many tunes, it takes forever to rope us in.

And for the odd bit of emotional connection that a great song can add to a sweet scene, it’s awfully reliant on the throw-away material of a band whose hits were hits for a reason, and whose flops are forgotten for a reason.

This is “Mamma Mia’s” B-Side.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive material

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Cher, Lily James, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Stellan Skarsgaard, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia and Meryl Streep. Credits:Directed by Ol Parker, script by Ol Parker, Richard Curtis and Catherine Johnson. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:54

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2 Responses to Movie Review: Second time’s not the Charm for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

  1. kenneth land says:

    Such a hateful review. And “When I Kissed the Teacher,” by the way, is hardly “little known.” The album on which it was included, “Arrival,” was a number-one hit in a half-dozen countries, including the UK, and grazed the Top 20 in this country, where the group was never quite as popular during it’s heyday. (With the group’s “Mamma Mia!” musical having run for 12 years on Broadway, I think it can safely be said that that’s no longer the case.”

    • Damned unreformed Flushing ABBA fanatics. I saw it on Broadway, too. Liked the first film. This is a junk rom com packed with “trunk songs,” inferior material composers used to toss aside, then trot out as filler in later musicals. The singing wasn’t even up to the first film. The staging on “Fernando” was laughably incompetent. Bleh.

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