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A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS

Producer: Suzanne Todd
Director: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Writer: Join Lucas and Scott Moore
Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon, Jay Hernandez, Peter Gallagher, Justin HartleyOnna Laurence, Emjay Anthony and Wanda Sykes
Studio:  STXfilms

D

The adjective is part of the title, but it also serves as a pretty fair description of the quality of “A Bad Moms Christmas,” the holiday-themed sequel to last year’s surprise moms-gone-wild hit. It’s just the latest proof that Hollywood no longer seems capable of turning out a Christmas movie with the slightest trace of heart in it; warmth has been replaced by sheer raunchiness and an incredible abundance of foul language (one would be overwhelmed trying to count the barrage of F-bombs unloaded here, often from the mouths of cute little kids). It’s no wonder that the “classic” song played over the titles is “Blue Christmas,” since way too much of the humor is of that color.

The picture reunites Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn as Amy, Kiki and Carla, the trio of dissimilar suburban Chicago housewives who bonded in opposition to the overbearing Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), ruler of the PTA, in the first film. They continue to be BFFs here, but the focus has changed: Applegate’s mellowed Gwendolyn is reduced to a mere cameo, and the challenge they must face, collectively and individually, is that of surviving Christmas—a task made much more difficult because each of them must deal with the presence of her mother.

For sweet, mousy Kiki, that means the arrival of her widowed mom Sandy (Cheryl Hines) from North Dakota, a woman so clingy that she thinks it’s okay to observe from the sidelines while her daughter and newly helpful hubby Kent (Lyle Brocato) get intimate; then she decides to stay permanently by buying the house next door. And for loudmouthed hedonist Carla, whose treatment of her son remains lackadaisical, it involves the unexpected appearance of Isis (Susan Sarandon), a selfish, pot-smoking (but delightfully indecorous) free spirit in a cowboy hat, who lives a nomadic existence as a gambler, showing up only when she wants to borrow money.

But as troublesome as Sandy and Isis are to their daughters, both are pickers compared to Ruth (Christine Baranski), Amy’s imperious mother, a snooty type who arrives with her browbeaten husband Hank (Peter Gallagher) in tow. Constantly demeaning poor, frazzled Amy—who’s trying her best to hold things together for her kids Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) after the departure of her husband for younger pastures (the bum doesn’t even show up for a holiday visit to the children, it seems)—Ruth is determined to mount the “perfect” Christmas for the household, which includes an elaborately decorated front yard, an elegant Christmas Eve party, and attendance at what is oddly described as the five-hour version of “The Nutcracker” in the original Russian, whatever that means. (Happily, Amy rebels and takes the clan to a family indoor playground instead, where everybody can jump on trampolines and play dodge ball—you know, typical Christmas pastimes).

Most of the movie juggles scenes of our three heroines drinking and carousing together (engaging in such charming activities as stealing a Foot Locker Christmas tree or engaging in a wild session with the mall’s Santa—only one of the dreadful music montages scattered throughout) with sequences of each of them coming to terms with her mother’s foibles en route to a cuddly finale (preceded, of course, by lots of raucousness). Ruth will even come to accept her daughter’s new beau, widower Jesse (Jay Hernandez), though initially, in a bit of crudely racist caricature, she treats him dismissively as part of the household help.

But the writing-directing team of Scott Moore and Jon Lucas stir the pot further by constantly tossing in other stuff in a scattershot, remarkably coarse fashion, grimly engaging in a largely futile effort to generate laughs. For example, the cameo by Wanda Sykes as a tart-tongued counselor from the first film is essentially repeated here, this time in the form of a conference that’s supposed to solve the escalating tension between Sandy and Kiki; Sykes brings her usual vigor to the scene, but it falls flat.

More extended is an unlikely romance that begins when Carla, working at a day spa (and insulting most of the customers, of course), meets exotic dancer Ty (Justin Hartley), who comes in for a waxing job you-know-where. They quickly become an item, and Ty will happily invite her and her pals to his performance at a local bar (where Isis, somehow, shows up too, acting with her customary abandon). As a capper he and will also bring his show home to the festive meal everybody shares at the close.

It has to be said that the six starring actresses give the movie their all, but there’s a sense of desperation in their effort to breathe some life into material that’s frankly sub-sitcom quality. The same can be said of Mitchell Amundsen’s cinematography, which, despite some establishing shots of the Chicago skyline, never manages to convince that the Atlanta locations are anything other than what they are. Even the release date of “A Bad Moms Christmas” is off by a couple of months. In a way, though, opening it just after Halloween has a certain justification: the movie’s vulgarity is kind of frightening, and the attempt to mitigate it with feel-good reconciliation at the close somehow makes it worse.

The end result is that opening the movie with “Blue Christmas” is appropriate in another way. It should leave you feeling depressed at the state of our current culture—cinematic and otherwise.

ALL I SEE IS YOU

Producer: Marc Forster, Craig Baumgarten, Michael Selby and Jillian Kugler
Director: Marc Forster
Writer: Sean Conway and Marc Forster
Stars: Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Ahna O'Reilly, Miguel Fernandez, Xavi Sanchez, Yvonne Strahovski, Wes Chatham, Kaitlin Orem and Danny Huston
Studio: Open Road Films

D

The subject of Marc Forster’s “All I See Is You” is blindness, and you might have some trouble with your own eyes while watching it: you could just find that they have an irresistible urge to close. One can appreciate the unusual use of the medium Forster is attempting here, but in the end the film is a failed experiment, a dull tale of a marriage driven on the rocks by a medical miracle that is not enlivened by some visual tricks.

As the film opens, Gina (Blake Lively) is living with her husband James (Jason Clarke) in a Bangkok apartment. Blinded as a result of a childhood car accident in which her parents were killed, she depends on James for everything, and he is as solicitous as can be.

As a result of a cutting-edge corneal transplant conducted by an imperious doctor (Danny Huston), Gina recovers sight in her right eye, and her life changes. She is enthralled by visions of a colorful world, adopts a dog, and is finally able to see Daniel (Wes Chatham), the handsome fellow she’s gotten to know at the swimming pool, and the little neighbor girl (Kaitlin Orem) whom she’s teaching guitar (and co-writing a song for them to perform at an upcoming talent show).

Gina’s new-found independence obviously has an impact on her relationship with James. A visit to Spain for a visit with her sister Carol (Ahna O’Reilly) and her free-spirited husband Ramon (Miguel Fernandez) is particularly troublesome, given James’s embarrassed reaction after Ramon introduces them to some Barcelona fleshpots. When they return home, problems arise with Gina’s vision, leading her back to the doctor for fear that the transplant is being rejected. Investigation suggests, however, that something has gone amiss with the eye drops that are an important part of her post-operative regimen. Could it be that James has been messing with the medication in hopes of returning to a world where he could dominate things?

This melodramatic turn hearkens back to old women’s pictures of the thirties and forties, not to mention Ross Hunter’s later resuscitation of them. But Forster tries to obscure the formulaic nature of the scenario he’s concocted with Sean Conway by conniving with cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser to employ a variety of camera tricks—blurriness, splotches of color, hallucinatory images, sequences designed to suggest the tactile impressions that a blind person might have of external stimuli (like water in a pool or a shower)—to take the viewer beyond the mechanics of the plot to a visceral identification with Gina’s condition.

The effort fails to function as intended, however, because those interruptions are just that—bits of technique far too familiar from experimental shorts (indeed, less innovative than many you can find there). Rather than being impressed (or merely diverted) by them, the viewer is likely to find them not only disruptive but tedious.

Lively, who made something of a splash in the shark-based thriller “The Shallows,” gives a performance that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lifetime Network movie, and Clarke, looking ever more like a young Colm Meaney, conveys a generally untrustworthy quality but not much more. Huston is his usual haughty self and O’Reilly okay, but Fernandez is so over-the-top as the brother-in-law that he might be brought up on charges of Hispanic stereotyping.

At the end of “All I See Is You,” we get to hear the song that Gina and her student have been preparing for weeks, performed against a montage of dramatic climaxes. It’s an insipid tune, a perfect ending to an ambitious but pretty insipid movie.