Movies

Oh 'Mother'!

Ensemble treads water in 'Mother's Day'

Garry Marshall's nakedly formulaic ensemble comedy "Mother's Day" -- part of an anti-franchise that includes Marshall's holiday-themed ensemble comedies "Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve" -- feels like something out of "The Twilight Zone."

Why? Because it takes place in a strange alternate universe. A universe where adults behave like children and children behave like adults. A universe where a widowed single father would make good to his daughter by buying her a karaoke machine and then using it to victimize a captive audience with a rendition of Digital Underground's "The Humpty Dance," punctuated by breaking his leg. A universe where everyone's weirdly obsessed with Mother's Day.

What world is this, where a gaggle of middle-aged women would gather around the aforementioned widowed single father (Jason Sudeikis) and cheerily, eagerly press him, "What are your plans for Mother's Day?" Now, listen, I love my mother in specific and mothers in general, but Mother's Day in my world is not a manic week-long preoccupation. But that's the attitude you need to peddle if you're Marshall and his team of screenwriters, the team required to craft Kate Hudson's introductory line "I ate a whole coffee cake last night."

The story built around this holiday feels even more like accelerated shuffle play than either of Marshall's last two films, with scenes sometimes lasting less than thirty seconds as if to say, "Hey, don't forget! Oscar winner Julia Roberts really is in this movie!" She really is, playing HSN shill and "Shopped to the Top" author Miranda Collins. And J. Ro just might be a mother to one of the film's other 12 main characters, though presumably not to sisters Jesse (Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke), who live right next door to each other and dread the visit of their mother Flo (Margo Martindale) and father Earl (Robert Pine), who gives a performance so broad I yearned to dropkick him out of the movie, lest the sisters have to reveal that they are, respectively, married to an Indian man (Aasif Mandvi) and a woman (Cameron Esposito).

Also kicking around the Atlanta of "Mother's Day": Jennifer Aniston's Sandy, who's jealously dismayed to discover her ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant, who really ought to get that squint checked out) has married a pretty young thing (Shay Mitchell) who Sandy's children love; British-born stand-up comic Zack (Jack Whitehall) and baby-mama Kristin (Britt Robertson); and ... well, there's more, but you really don't want to know. Suffice it to say that Marshall acolytes won't be disappointed: his mascot Hector Elizondo does show up, as Collins' agent, in the latter-day Groucho drag of a beret and ever-present unlit prop cigar.

What to say about a product this artless? A movie so tone-deaf and awash in white privilege that it thinks it's okay to merrily force Mandvi, as one of the film's two significant characters of color, to lie on the ground in a wildly unfunny riff on police racism. A movie whose terms of endearment are to cram in as many "cute" central-casting kids and sunny, colorful close-ups as possible. A movie of mirthless sitcomedy and shameless synthetic sentiment. And a movie so far up its own posterior that it includes the threatening exchange "They made a womb float for Mother's Day?" "I can't wait to see what they do for Father's Day!" Well, I can.

Rated PG-13. One hour, 34 minutes.

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