A little more than a year after "Bad Moms" became the surprise hit of summer 2016, the inspirationally lax trio of mothers is back for another, more seasonally focused round in "A Bad Moms Christmas."
That was a fast turnaround — and it shows with a good idea and a stellar cast lost inside a sloppy script that mostly retreads last year's laughs.
Writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have returned, along with stars Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell, playing put-upon parents sent to the brink by the demands of holiday decorating, gift wrapping and gingerbread house making.
And what do they get for all their hard work?
"Coupons for free back rubs," laments Bell's Kiki one evening while the three women are getting drunk at a mall food court. To add an extra layer of pressure this year, the mothers of Kiki, Amy (Kunis) and Carla (Hahn) are visiting for the holidays.
This is an ideal chance for the sequel to explore new territory; the complexity of mother-daughter dynamics could supply ample material for a movie, especially because each pairing is a little different.
Amy's mom, Ruth (Christine Baranski), is a snooty perfectionist who's never satisfied, and Kiki's mother, Sandy (Cheryl Hines), is so obsessed with her daughter that a restraining order might be necessary. Then there's Isis (Susan Sarandon), who pops out of the passenger seat of an 18-wheeler in front of Carla's house and immediately lights up a joint. She hasn't been heard from in three years — since the last time she needed money — but now she's back to dote on her family at Easter.
"Christmas," Carla corrects. Whatever.
The push and pull between these mothers and daughters is neither as insightful nor as amusing as it could have been. Really, it's just an excuse for the three original moms to revisit their arcs from the first time around, when they were tearing their hair out in frustration until they reached their breaking point — causing major mayhem inside of a grocery store. (This time the nearly shot-for-shot re-creation unfolds in a shopping mall, and the novelty has worn off.) The movie also tries to mine laughs from the incongruity of hearing well-heeled older folks drop expletives, which seems pretty ho-hum at this point.
The sequel never quite captures the disarming hilarity of the original, with one notable exception. When single mom Carla, a professional bikini waxer, has to tend to the most tender areas of a male stripper (Justin Hartley of "This Is Us" fame) — and ends up falling in love — the results are snort-out-loud funny. The wacky romance that follows is a big upgrade from the lackluster flirtation at the heart of the first movie. In the follow-up, Amy and Jessie (Jay Hernandez) are still an item — and still pretty boring. Though Jessie's presence allows the audience to fully comprehend Ruth's awfulness. During their first meeting, she mistakes him for the help; on their second, she introduces herself as if they've never met. By the time she gives him a hug and calls him Jesus, it seems like a win.
The beauty of "Bad Moms" was that it catered to an audience that Hollywood often leaves behind, and its success only highlighted the viability of women-centric stories. The good news is movie studios are apparently getting the message — except that they're rushing out uninspired facsimiles. Maybe they should take a lesson from the movie itself: Stressed out moms deserve better.
R. At area theaters. Contains crude sexual content and language throughout and some drug use. 104 minutes.