Proving that raunchy farce is no longer the singular province of guys like Seth Rogen and James Franco, the distaff team of Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler run riot in “Sisters,” which is what–like “Bridesmaids” before it—might be called a sorority-girls comedy that revels in crossing the boundaries of good taste. But the girls-just-want-to-have-fun philosophy behind this gross-out misfire proves no more appealing than the numerous examples of crass frat-boy rowdiness that have filled the screen over the past decade.
Fey and Poehler play very different siblings. Maura (Poehler) is a prissy, recently-divorced nurse with a compulsion for helping people whether they want her to or not, while Kate (Fey) is an abrasive hairdresser and helicopter single mom whose teen daughter Haley (Madison Davenport) finds her interference insufferable. The recently-fired Kate is also homeless, since her landlady has just thrown her out. So she has the brilliant idea of moving in, Haley in tow, with her parents Bucky and Deana Ellis (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) in the Orlando family homestead.
What Kate doesn’t know is that Bucky and Deanna have decided to sell the house and move into a condo. They’ve told Maura, who’s none too happy about it, and asked her to relay the information to the volatile Kate. But instead she persuades Kate that they should take a trip to Orlando to see their parents—and the news of the sale sets Kate off, of course. Charged with clearing out their old bedrooms, the two decide instead to host one last “Ellis Island” party in their parents’ absence with their old high school classmates before the snarky yuppie buyers take the place over.
Needless to say, the evening, which begins as a soporific affair for aging, set-in-their-ways couples, quickly turns chaotic. One of the reasons is sleazy, libidinous alcoholic Dave (John Leguizamo) who eventually moves to energize things by inviting over his heavily-muscled drug dealer Pazuzu (John Cena). Another is the class dweeb Alex (Bobby Moynihan) who’s constantly making dumb jokes for attention’s sake. A third is the erstwhile campus queen Brinda (Maya Rudolph) who crashes the party uninvited, gets thrown out by the still-fuming Kate, and then tries to get the cops involved in shutting the ruckus down. And Maura’s blanket invitation to a group of party-loving Korean nail-salon workers proves a mistake (even apart from the stereotyping, which smacks of Gedde Watanabe’s Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles”).
What’s supposed to be most amusing is that for once the sisters have agreed on a role reversal: Kate will refrain from drinking and act the part of den mother for the night, while prim Maura will get sloshed and laid, presumably with the handsome, genial fellow named James (Ike Barinholtz) who’s refurbishing his late parents house down the street (Ike Barinholtz) and proves more than willing to meet her long-suppressed needs. As the bash goes completely off the rails, the house gets trashed as thoroughly as the one in “Project X.” (An addendum to Chekhov’s gun dictum: if you’re going to mention a sinkhole in the first act, you have to use it by the movie’s end.) But by then Kate is trying desperately to close things down, since her clueless parents have just told her they’re planning to give her a substantial part of the sales price to buy a place for her and Hannah. Meanwhile Maura is going at it with James, though their shenanigans result not only in the collapse of the ceiling but an accident involving James and a wind-up ballerina music box that leaves him in a most uncomfortable situation.
“Sisters” was clearly designed as a vehicle for Fey and Poehler, and the script gives them plenty of rapid-fire exchanges, many of a suggestive nature. Some of them might elicit a smile, but most are just of the coarse, crude sort that has unhappily become mandatory in this sort of R-rated comedy. Pell does earn points for giving Fey the opportunity to cut loose and Poehler the chance to play both repressed and zany, but if their Lucy-and-Ethel pairing is to work, they need cleverer writing than this movie provides. Though Rudolph has her moments are a haughty harpy, most of the supporting players come off poorly, with Moynihan getting irritating very quickly as the class boob, Leguizamo getting very little to do, and Barinholtz forced to rely almost completely on an embarrassed smile. In fact, the most amusing moments come from Brolin and Wiest, who positively embody the exasperation of parents over offspring who have never grown up and a desire to live out their golden years to the fullest. Visually the picture is adequate at best, with Barry Peterson’s cinematography opting for the garish look so common in these raunchy farces and editor Lee Haxall allowing things to run on for nearly a full two hours. (Naturally the end credits offer outtakes, none particularly funny.)
Fans of the routines Fey and Poehler have done hosting awards shows mat embrace “Sisters,” but Amy Schumer pulled off the R-rated trick to better effect in her solo effort “Trainwreck.” Some of us will definitely continue to prefer the Brian De Palma version of this title.