[Screen It]


(2018) (Amanda Seyfried, Lily James) (PG-13)

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Musical: As we see flashbacks to how her mother met the three men who might be her biological father, a young woman plans a grand reopening of her late mom's Greek isle villa.
Sophie Sheridan (AMANDA SEYFRIED) is a young woman who's planning the grand reopening of the Greek isle villa formerly owned by her mother, Donna (MERYL STREEP), who died around a year ago. With the help of her manager, Fernando (ANDY GARCIA), and one of three men who could be her biological father, Sam Carmichael (PIERCE BROSNAN), Sophie finds the upcoming event bittersweet, what with her mom not being there for the festivities.

But with her mother's former singing partners, Rosie (JULIE WALTERS) and Tanya (CHRISTINE BARANSKI), expected to arrive along with the two other men, Harry Bright (COLIN FIRTH) and Bill Anderson (STELLAN SKARSGÅRD), who could be her father, at least she'll be among family and friends. Yet, that might not include her new husband, Sky (DOMINIC COOPER), who's thinking of staying in New York to accept a job offer, and it's highly unlikely her grandmother, Ruby Sheridan (CHER), is going to show since she never has in the past.

As that plays out, we also see how young Donna (LILY JAMES) came to meet Bill (JOSH DYLAN), Sam (JEREMY IRVINE) and Harry (HUGH SKINNER) right after graduation and during her travels to that Greek isle, with her various romances intriguing her friends, Rosie (ALEXA DAVIES) and Tanya (JESSICA KEENAN WYNN), who occasionally show up to join her.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I'm certainly no expert when it comes to music or what it takes to make hit songs, but I'm always amazed by how things often play out in that industry. There are the so-called one-hit wonders where a band creates an often terrific song but can't repeat that for any of their other offerings. There are also those who are big for years or decades and crank out a number of memorable songs and then suddenly have that streak dry up, making you wonder what happened.

Those are often highlighted when you go to concerts as I recently did, separately, with U2 and Bruce Springsteen. Both were huge decades ago, but haven't released a hit in a long time. While diehard fans probably enjoyed hearing the new material, the majority of our audiences -- 20,000 strong -- politely listened and clapped at the end of each. But they then went crazy when the familiar hits were played.

Viewers might have a similar response when watching "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again." It's, natch, the sequel to the 2008 film that surprised many by overcoming a critical drubbing to gross north of $600 million at the worldwide box office ($144 million coming from domestic coffers) following the unexpected success of the Broadway production that took old ABBA songs and fashioned a musical with and around them.

That continues in this offering that's part sequel and part prequel that likewise uses tunes from the Swedish pop quartet to fuel and accompany the plot. Alas, they include a number of B-side songs that, like the newer releases of the aforementioned bands, are okay but instantly forgettable. But when the biggest hits are dragged over from the first film to this one, things instantly and quite noticeably pick up in terms of infectious and entertaining, if familiar fun.

The plot centers around Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) planning a grand reopening of the Greek isle villa previously run by her late mother (Meryl Streep, mostly seen in photos until a late imagined moment and then the buoyant end credits sequence).

With the help of her manager (Andy Garcia) and one of the three men who could be her biological father (Pierce Brosnan, thankfully severely throttled back from making our ears bleed a second time through his singing), she hopes to see her other two dads (Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth) and her mom's former singing partners (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) at the big event. But she's upset that her new husband (Dominic Cooper) might be taking a job far away in the Big Apple and doesn't even send out an invite to her grandmother (Cher) who's never been part of her life.

At the same time, we see flashbacks to how her mom (a terrific Lily James), a recent college grad, ended up meeting the three men (Hugh Skinner, Jeremy Irvine, and Josh Dylan) who all separately slept with her and could have been Sophie's father. Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies also show up in those sequences playing younger versions of Baranski and Walters' characters.

Various ABBA tunes pop up when the characters suddenly break into song, with "Waterloo" being an early delight. But for each of those that work splendidly, there are two or three forgettable songs that I had never heard from the group (disclaimer: I only knew the band through radio play back in the day and never owned any of their albums) and don't elicit the same response.

Writer/director Ol Parker handles everything decently -- including some creative transitional moments here and there -- and when those familiar songs show up (again), the movie really flies and it's hard not to have a smile on your face to accompany the tapping of your foot. That includes when Cher (as accompanied by Garcia) belts out "Fernando." But the gifted singer/actress nearly shows up too late (a big mistake) and when the lesser known songs play before that, the film's energy clearly wanes.

All of which makes you wish ABBA had managed to crank out a few more greatest hits back in the day to accompany those we already know. Fun and enjoyable when it's working and otherwise bland when it doesn't, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" might prove popular enough to spawn a second sequel.

But unless the band held back with a previously unreleased album containing songs to match "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo" and the title ditty, we might not want to go there again. This offering caught me in just the right mood and thus rates as a passable 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 17, 2018 / Posted July 20, 2018

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