A Schwing and a Prayer

Hey, gang -- let's put on a show!
Ever since Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney made careers out of that story line in the late Thirties, it's been the most overused (and frequently the lamest) premise in television and motion picture history. It's like an unwritten law of TV sitcoms: Every series has to air at least one episode that closes with a main character appearing in a theatrical or musical production, preferably one that raises just enough money to bail out some worthy cause. The practice has not been as widespread in motion pictures, although the Fames and Dirty Dancings of the world have, regrettably, had their days in the sun. As a rule, movies avoid the hackneyed situation, except as a last resort.

Which brings us to Wayne's World 2 and Sister Act 2, both of which acquiesce to the sorry formula. Not that anyone considering viewing either of these silly sequels is probably the least bit concerned with a nicety like an original plot. In fact, the case could be made that, especially with Wayne's World 2, having a remotely credible story could be a distraction. Give us Wayne and Garth shamelessly mugging and saying "schwing" and "hurl" and "exsqueeze me" and "Not!" a few times, and we'll go home happy.

A big part of Wayne's World's appeal was its stupidity; like the Bill and Ted movies or, to a lesser degree, Dazed and Confused, much of it is funny because everybody knows Waynes and Garths in real life. (At least that's what friends of mine who profess to have enjoyed the movie tell me. Curmudgeonly old sourpuss that I am, I hated the first one.) The film's boosters argue that there wasn't much of a plot because guys like Wayne and Garth and Bill and Ted live directionless lives. Giving them something to do would just gum up the works and make it all ring false. Who am I to suggest that moviegoers should expect a little more for their $6.50 than an overblown Saturday Night Live sketch? After all, as the press kit for WW2 emphasizes, the first film grossed more than $120 million domestically and an additional $60 million internationally. Someone thought it was funny.

But it wasn't me, which forces me to confront a bizarre little dilemma. I didn't like the original Wayne's World because I thought the gags were dumb, the music lousy, and Dana Carvey's characterization weak. The movie was a huge hit. Now here's the sequel. Everyone knows a sequel is supposed to be inferior to the original movie. Look at Weekend at Bernie's. But I have to admit, I almost sort of nearly actually semi-enjoyed Wayne 2. The jokes are a little smarter, the movie parodies sharper, Aerosmith replaces Queen as the dominant musical force, and Dana Carvey's acting improves (as a reward, perhaps, Garth loses his virginity A to Kim Basinger, no less). And as an added bonus, Tia Carrere doesn't sing. Do all of these refinements make Wayne's World 2 a better movie than the original, or does boosting the IQ level ruin it? That's the dilemma.

Greater minds than my own will no doubt puzzle over that very question for centuries. But for now you're stuck with my assessment, and I say the new, improved Wayne beats the old one hands down. For starters, this Wayne is trying to get a handle on adulthood. He's moved out of his parents' house, and he and Garth are broadcasting their public-access cable TV show from a derelict factory converted into a studio in downtown Chicago. The show is doing well, as is Wayne's relationship with Cassandra, the hard rock vocalist portrayed by Carrere in the first film.

But something's troubling Wayne. He wants more out of life. He wants fulfillment. In the middle of a sleepless night a vision appears before him. The ghost of Jim Morrison tells the slacker from Aurora, Illinois, to stage a marathon rock concert that will eventually become known as Waynestock. When Wayne voices skepticism that big-name acts like Aerosmith will be willing to play such a date, the apparition assures him: "If you book them, they will come."

And that's pretty much it as far as plot is concerned. The boys spend the rest of the movie organizing Waynestock and getting sidetracked into various and sundry shenanigans. There's a subplot involving Cassandra's sleazy new record producer trying to woo her away from Wayne and nearly succeeding (Christopher Walken brings his trademark creepiness to a role that is essentially the same as Rob Lowe's character in the original). And there's one involving Garth's budding romantic prowess. But in the end it's Wayne and Garth putting on a show.

The fun is all in the narrative byways they take getting there. There are numerous send-ups of famous movie scenes, from the generic martial arts fight sequence to a clever Jurassic Park spoof. During the climactic ending, a dead-on parody of The Graduate, Wayne drives like a madman to get to the church in time to disrupt Cassandra's wedding to her producer. "Mrs. Robinson" plays on the soundtrack. Wayne enters a tunnel; the soundtrack goes to static until he emerges from the other end, whereupon the song picks up again.

Much of the film's charm is no doubt attributable to Myers's obvious enjoyment of the making of the film. Whether he and Carvey are body surfing a sea of hands from the back of a concert hall to the stage during an Aerosmith show, or just broadcasting their cable program and needling each other, Myers's enthusiasm is contagious. He's clearly having a great time, and the spirit is contagious.

Sister Act 2 is another story. If Mike Myers looks like he's having the time of his life doing the Wayne redux, Whoopi Goldberg stumbles blindly through her film like she still can't believe anybody was desperate enough to sit through the original Sister Act. Except for the inspired opening production number that establishes that Goldberg's character has made the leap from second-rate lounge singer to second-rate Vegas headliner, the eyebrowless actress appears bewildered throughout.

The good sisters of St. Catherine's are helping run an inner-city school full of rowdy teenagers that just happens to be the alma mater of their streetwise friend and former pseudo-nun Deloris Van Cartier (a.k.a. Sister Mary Clarence), played by Goldberg. Things aren't looking good A the kids are out of control, and mean old administrator Mr. Crisp, played by a paunchy, puffy James Coburn, wants to close the school. Naturally the sisters prevail upon their sequined friend, who goes undercover as a nun to straighten things out.

She inherits a troublesome music class that the filmmakers have loaded with enough talented young people to give New York's famed High School of the Performing Arts a run for its money. These kids can outsing Mariah Carey and outdance Michael Jackson, but the filmmakers posit them as just your average class of high-spirited teens. Like she did with the nuns in the original Sister Act, Whoopi transforms the supposedly ragtag bunch into a cohesive choir. Along the way she overcomes their hostility, gains their acceptance, and teaches them respect with an ease not seen since Gabe Kaplan won over Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back, Kotter. Under her tutelage they go on to win a state choir competition, learn valuable life lessons along the way, and save their school (for Sister Act 3?). To Sir, With Love has more relevance.

You don't expect much from hack authors James Orr and Jim Cruickshank, perpetrators of such crimes against humanity as Tough Guys and Three Men and a Baby, and that's what you get A not much. Their recycling of the "let's put on a show" riff is unimaginative even by their own sunken standards. And they saddle Goldberg with material not even a real-life Vegas lounge act would attempt to get away with. The sister can act -- The Color Purple proves it -- but as it has so many times in Goldberg's brief screen career, a shoddy script dulls her edge. Michael Jeter and Barnard Hughes are likewise wasted here in supporting roles that serve no apparent purpose other than to bloat the cast payroll. And speaking of bloat, James Coburn looks terrible and acts worse. He should fire his agent for letting him do this film.

Sister Act 2 is the worst kind of sequel, the kind where you're supposed to titter gleefully each time a cast member from the original movie appears, regardless of how gratuitous their inclusion in the half-baked "story." The kids are all ringers, Whoopi coasts, the gags fall flat, and the whole project reeks of quick-buck fever. Even a nun would have trouble saying something nice about that.

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