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‘Sister Act 2’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 10, 1993

The hills are alive with the bells of Saint Whoopi's. Yes, the good sister Goldberg, and those sassy celibates -- Kathy Najimy, Mary Wickes and Wendy Makkena -- are "Back in the Habit" for "Sister Act 2." It's a sappy crowd-pleaser that marries "Fame" with "The Singing Nun" and sorely misses the premise that propelled the original: Undercover Vegas chorine converts the convent.

A contrived comedy-cum-musical, the film reunites Las Vegas lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Goldberg) with the sisters who unknowingly hid her from her mobster boyfriend in "Sister Act." Here she goes undercover as Sister Mary Clarence, but the religious are already in on the gag. They already know how to shake that thang. That leaves the production numbers -- spiffy, yes, but only two feature the original wimple-wigglers as Catholicism's answer to the Ikettes.

Deloris, now a successful headliner, agrees to help her old friends when she learns that her old high school, St. Francis, is in decline, along with the San Francisco parish it serves. Destined to become a parking lot, the school can be saved from destruction only with Deloris's help. Why? Because it's her sequel. "We have nowhere else to turn," insist the endearing nuns, who relocate their old friend on the closing night of her sold-out Las Vegas engagement.

Deloris, glitzy in red sequins and big hair, frisks through a tacky production number, "The Mother of All Medleys," which involves the fondling of many bodacious Las Vegas show boys. She also flies through the air in a glittery habit -- doubtless a homage to Sally Field. Afterward she and the nuns set out for St. Francis, where they introduce Sister Mary Clarence to their cute brethren: the doddering principal (Barnard Hughes), the cherubic math teacher (Michael Jeter) and the grumpy Latin teacher (Brad Sullivan).

Though well-meaning, the brothers interfere with Sister Mary Clarence's efforts to revitalize St. Francis High. Her chief, but not especially effective, nemesis is the school administrator (James Coburn), who is always wondering where he's seen her before. Gosh, do you think he'll recognize our heroine before she turns her unruly music class into a well-behaved hip-hop choir?

The teenagers, a veritable racial rainbow, learn a thing or two about harmony, hard work and, yes, the thoughts of the German poet Rilke under Sistah M.C.'s tutelage. They stop drawing on the walls and help clean up the music room, develop discipline and self-respect and learn not to wear their hats in class. These are sound lessons and true, but they are all too obviously sermons from Saint Walt of the Disney.

James Orr and Jim Cruickshank of "Three Men and a Baby" also wrote this shamelessly contrived pap, which Bill Duke of "A Rage in Harlem" directed with little success. The production numbers by the talented young newcomers and the get-down nuns are happy exceptions, if only there were more of them. Whatever. Goldberg, who belts out her own numbers in Supreme style, will doubtless be back in the wimple again. Stay tuned for Sister Act 3: Mo' Better Nuns.

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